07/27/2003 11:00PM

Whitney: Medaglia d'Oro in, Azeri out

Email

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Medaglia d'Oro has not started since dominating the Oaklawn Park Handicap on April 5. But any thoughts the four-month layoff might impact his performance in Saturday's $750,000 Whitney Handicap were likely put to rest after Medaglia d'Oro looked razor-sharp working six furlongs in 1:12.30 here Sunday morning.

Medaglia d'Oro will be the overwhelming favorite and starting highweight under

123 pounds in the Grade 1 Whitney. As of Monday, only Volponi (120), Proud Citizen (114), and Saarland (113) were listed as definite starters for the 1 1/8-mile Whitney.

Trainer Todd Pletcher remained undecided as to the status of Harlan's Holiday (120), while Kiaran McLaughlin said he would wait until later in the week before deciding whether to run Northern Rock (113).

Reigning Horse of the Year Azeri remained under serious consideration for the race until late Monday morning when owner Michael Paulson decided not to send her east to take on males for the first time. Azeri worked five furlongs in 59 seconds at San Luis Rey Downs on Monday.

"We put the Whitney down on her schedule at the start of the year and we were still looking at the race hard and deep up until this morning," Paulson said Monday. "I'm extremely confident this horse could win a race like that, but between the traveling, the uncertainty of the weather, and not having had the opportunity to train over that track, we felt it was more prudent to keep her right here for now."

Medaglia d'Oro, with Aaron Gryder aboard, broke off at the five-furlong pole immediately after the renovation break on Sunday and posted fractions of 25, 36.20, 48.60, and 1:00.60 before completing his final eighth in a sparkling 11.70 around the clubhouse turn.

"He was very smooth. I was very happy with his work," said trainer Bobby Frankel. "He couldn't have finished as strong as he did if he wasn't completely fit."

Saarland, who is coming off a third-place finish in the Brooklyn Handicap, also worked Sunday, going five furlongs in 1:02, according to trainer Shug McGaughey. He was officially credited with a half-mile work in 49.65. Proud Citizen worked five furlongs in 1:01 on Monday.