08/14/2002 12:00AM

Wishful thinking: Both stars tangling in Travers

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PHILADELPHIA - Unless the War Emblem camp changes its mind, we are only left with the images of Aug. 4. First, Medaglia d'Oro ran out of the TV screen in the Jim Dandy. A few minutes later, War Emblem cruised to a very easy victory in the Haskell.

Perhaps, we should find a way to split-screen the two races to see how the two colts matched up. The Beyers strongly suggest Medaglia d'Oro ran the better race when he went off with his 120. But the numbers can't tell us how it would have played out if the two had raced each other.

Medaglia d'Oro is scheduled to run in next Saturday's Travers Stakes. War Emblem, who got a 112 in the Haskell, is supposed to run in the Pacific Classic the next day.

When both colts are asked for speed, who is really faster? And if both were asked to make the top, which one would falter? Would both hit the wall?

The two colts raced against each other in the Triple Crown, but those races really give us no answers to the questions. They were in the same races, but never really raced against each other.

Medaglia d'Oro missed the break in the Kentucky Derby and was 10th early in the race. He was the only horse to make up any ground, but finished a well-beaten fourth. War Emblem got a clear lead and dominated.

The Preakness looked like it would have a contested pace. It did not. War Emblem dueled for a time with a hopeless longshot, took the lead into the stretch, and won like a very good thing. Medaglia d'Oro was rated back in third in anticipation of the duel that never happened. He finished eighth, beaten 17 1/4 lengths.

In the Belmont Stakes, War Emblem was 6-5. Medaglia d'Oro was 13-1. War Emblem missed the break and absolutely lost his best chance at that moment. Medaglia d'Oro was with the pace the whole way and finished a gallant second.

If you throw out the Belmont, War Emblem's last four Beyers are 112, 109, 114, and 112. Throw out the Preakness and Medaglia d'Oro's last six Beyers are 120, 104, 102, 105, 107, and 101.

Confronted with figures like that and styles like that, what would you do?

The past performances rather strongly suggest that War Emblem is not much good at all without the lead. When he has had the lead in the stretch, he's 7-for-7. When he has hit the stretch without the front, he's 0 for 4 and has been beaten by a combined 49 lengths.

Medaglia d'Oro battled for the lead in two of his three wins. He battled all the way when he was second in the Wood Memorial and Belmont. He went into the Beyer stratosphere when he got that clear lead at Saratoga.

Medaglia d'Oro ran slightly faster fractions in the Jim Dandy than War Emblem did in the Haskell, but it's very difficult to compare fractions from two different tracks.

It would appear Medaglia d'Oro has more than one dimension. But would that matter if War Emblem got loose? The consistency of War Emblem's figures suggests he would win under that circumstance. My best guess is that Medaglia d'Oro would finish in front of War Emblem if the horses hooked up early, but that would be no guarantee of him winning.

At the moment, War Emblem is far in front in the race for 3-year-old champion. Medaglia d'Oro might have to win out (Travers, perhaps Woodward or Jockey Club Gold Cup, Breeders' Cup Classic) to take the title from the Derby and Preakness winner.

Perhaps, War Emblem's connections will start thinking about Came Home and Sky Jack in the Pacific Classic and come back east after all. That would make the Travers a fascinating race on so many levels. Jockey tactics, trainer intention, post positions, and raw natural speed might all play a part in answering some very intriguing questions.