Medaglia d'Oro, whose connections bypassed last weekend's Dubai World Cup, will lead a small field to the post with top weight of 122 pounds in Saturday's $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II).
With five horses entered, this will be the smallest Oaklawn Handicap field since 1986 when Turkoman, with Chris McCarron up, defeated three rivals.
But the racing office was happy to get five. For several days, the only definite starters were Medaglia d'Oro, who scared several horses out of the race, Kudos and Crafty Shaw. Before the entries were drawn, however, the connections of Slider and Gold Tango came to the rescue, boosting the field to five.
The Oaklawn Handicap will represent a homecoming for Medaglia d'Oro, who broke his maiden over the Arkansas layout last February for trainer David Vance in his second start.
Two weeks later, Medaglia d'Oro was sold for $500,000 to California sportsman Edmund A. Gann, who turned the then 3-year-old over to Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.
Racing for his new connections, Medaglia d'Oro went on last year to win the Jim Dandy and the Travers at Saratoga, and finish second in the Wood Memorial, the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic. If not for Volponi's upset in the BC Classic, no doubt Medaglia d'Oro would have emerged as the Horse of the Year.
Medaglia d'Oro has started only once at 4, winning the Strub Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita by seven lengths on Feb. 1.
He originally was scheduled to run in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March, but Frankel held him out when he was assigned the same weight as 5-year-old Congaree. Fankel planned to go to last weekend's Dubai World Cup, but the trip was canceled due to the war in nearby Iraq and training factors, and it was decided to come to Hot Springs instead.
He'll spot his four rivals from seven to 14 pounds Saturday.
Kudos, the 2002 Oaklawn Handicap winner who was third in the Santa Anita Handicap and is trained by Richard Mandella, and Crafty Shaw, runner-up in Oaklawn's Razorback last month and owned by track president Charles Cella, are the likely main threats to Medaglia d'Oro. But it will be interesting to see if Slider, an impressive two-time allowance winner over the track, is permitted to run loose on the lead. If so, he may take some catching under Carlos Marquez, the hottest rider at the meeting.$500,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr.II), 4 & up, 1 1/8 mile
PP. Horse, Wgt., Rider
1. Medaglia d'Oro (KY), 122, Jerry D. Bailey
2. Gold Tango (FL), 108, Terry J. Thompson
3. Crafty Shaw (KY), 114, James Lopez
4. Slider (KY), 111, Carlos H. Marquez, Jr.
5. Kudos (KY), 115, Alex O. Solis