12/28/2007 1:00AM

This time it's Medici Code's turn

EmailPHOENIX - I have to admit there was glee as I watched the stretch run of last month's Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. I had selected Daytona on top with Medici Code second, and considering their generous odds I was happy to see those two storming home, in that order, far clear of the rest.

Sunday's Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap gives us the next chapter of this budding rivalry, as these two, and some tough elders, knock heads going 1 1/8 miles on the Santa Anita turf course. It's Daytona's speed versus Medici Code's closing power. Considering it's a furlong shorter than the Hollywood Derby, doesn't that figure to make things easier for Daytona? Not necessarily so.

As a big Daytona fan, I was left with the feeling that Medici Code could easily reverse the Hollywood Derby result when the two meet again.

While Daytona was merely galloping along up front in the derby, Medici Code was well back. Medici Code's rider, Martin Pedroza, was not only going to have to find a lane and make up a lot of ground, but also do so against a sharp horse who had his own way up front. He almost got it done, but he just ran out of ground. Things may not be so tough for him Sunday at Santa Anita.

First, there are only six horses in the San Gabriel, so traffic figures to be less of an issue, and surely Pedroza knows now that he cannot give Daytona eight lengths or so of a head start. He must also remember that Daytona's coming-out party actually happened on the Santa Anita course prior to the Hollywood Derby, when he powered home to win the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby.

Also, Medici Code may get some pace help in the San Gabriel. Daytona, Lang Field, and Storm Military are all naturally quick horses, so the pace should be legitimate.

Best of all, Medici Code appears ready to vault forward. He's worked in sensational fashion, and trainer Darrell Vienna isn't one to put the hammer down on his horses in the morning. Medici Code worked a bullet 1:01.80 for five furlongs on the turf at Santa Anita on Dec. 23.

Still, Medici Code probably needs to improve to win the San Gabriel. Not only must he rein in Daytona, but he also takes on his elders.

Storm Military and Proudinsky, both trained by Bobby Frankel, are dangerous. Storm Military may go off favored. A multiple Grade 1 winner in his native Argentina, he was a game second in his U.S. debut here, the War Chant, beating Lang Field, who came back to win the Grade 1 Citation at Hollywood Park last month. Storm MIlitary then went to Hollywood on Nov. 17 and easily won a strong allowance race. The horse he beat back into third, Toasted, came right back to win.

Proudinsky, meanwhile, was a smashing winner during the Oak Tree meet in his first start in a year. He came back to be third, less than a length behind Lang Field, in the Citation.

The two worked strongly together recently - a bullet 1:11 for six furlongs on Hollywood's Cushion Track on Monday. So you know they like the course, and any time the track puts up a graded turf race, one of the first directions to look is toward Frankel.

Lang Field comes off his proudest moment for trainer Art Sherman. He pressed the pace and battled gamely through the lane to win the Citation and may have turned the corner. He's done well at Santa Anita, too, winning 2 of his 3 races there.

Yet Medici Code and Daytona, both just a couple days shy of their fourth birthday, appear on their way to establishing a nice turf rivalry out West. And the hunch here is the second round of this fight goes to Medici Code.