Medaglia d'Oro, favored to win Donn Handicap.

Medaglia d'Oro, favored to win Donn Handicap.

NYRA/Adam Coglianese

Medaglia d'Oro Favored Over Funny Cide for Saturday's Donn

Edited from a Gulfstream Park release

The first major showdown of the 2004 season takes place at Gulfstream Park Saturday as Funny Cide, last year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner, meets Medaglia d'Oro, one of the best older horses in training, in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) at 1 1/18 miles.

The 46th running of the Donn--the first grade I handicap to be run this season in the U.S.--drew a field of eight and offers a winner's prize of $300,000. The Donn is one of three graded stakes on Saturday's card at Gulfstream park, with 3-year-old fillies contesting the $150,000 Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) and older sprinters going in the $100,000 Deputy Minister Handicap (gr. III).

Sackatoga Stable's Funny Cide will get his first real test as a 4-year-old. The New York-bred son of Distorted Humor  opened his campaign here on Jan. 10 with an easy score in a seven-furlong allowance race and has been working well for trainer Barclay Tagg at Palm Meadows.

Gulfstream oddsmaker Chuck Streva has installed Medaglia d'Oro as the 8-5 morning line favorite, with Funny Cide second choice at 2-1.

Bobby Frankel, who sent Empire Maker  here to win the Florida Derby (gr. I) last year and then sent him out to ruin Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), shipped Medaglia d'Oro East on Wednesday. The son of El Prado will carry highweight of 122 pounds to 119 for Funny Cide.

The trainer is hoping this will be the year that Medaglia d'Oro, owned by Edmund Gann, puts it all together, and finishes with a Breeders' Cup victory and an Eclipse Award after two straight seasons of close-but-no-cigar finishes.

Funny Cide, who became the first gelding to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde van Dusen in 1929, will be kept in training as long as he's racing sound, Tagg says. The trainer added that if Funny Cide shows he cannot handle grade I company in $500,000 races, he'll run in grade III company for $100,000 purses. The Donn, therefore, presents a good preview of how his 2004 campaign could go.

Funny Cide's only two victories in eight starts last year came in the two classics. He finished the season by running ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), some 13 lengths behind Medaglia d'Oro, who ran second to Pleasantly Perfect. The regular riders for both will be aboard, with Jose Santos riding Funny Cide from Post 5, and Jerry Bailey on Medaglia d'Oro from Post 3.

Medaglia d'Oro marked himself one to watch in 2002, when he won the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita in his third career start. He was beaten a head in the grade I Wood Memorial, and then had his Kentucky Derby chances compromised by a poor start.

Frankel got him on track in midsummer, however, as the colt won the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and the Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga and finished the season by running second as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Last year, Medaglia d'Oro won three straight stakes, taking the Strub Stakes (gr. II) in February, the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) in April, and the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) in August. He finished the season with seconds in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) and BC Classic, both times as the favorite.

Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens will saddle two of the starters. His horses Bowman's Band and Puzzlement will race as separate betting interests. The two horses raced against each other last out in the Hal's Hope Handicap (gr. III) here on Jan. 3, when Puzzlement ran down his barnmate to score by a neck. Bowman's Band, a 6-year-old by Dixieland Band, is the more accomplished of the two with nearly $900,000 in career earnings, but both are grade II stakes winners. Puzzlement, a 5-year-old by Pine Bluff, won the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap last summer, while Bowman's Band took the Meadowlands Breeders' Cup Stakes.

Seattle Fitz, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred trained by the red-hot Kiaran McLaughlin (8 wins in 11 starts this meet), is listed at 6-1 on the morning line. He is coming off a nose victory in the Aqueduct Handicap (gr. III), his first stakes win in the U.S.

Milt Wolfson trains The Judge Sez Who, a 5-year-old son of Judge T C who returns to Florida after running third in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita last out on Jan. 24. The Judge will be looking for his first win since he took the 2002 running of the Fred Hooper Handicap at Calder.

Predawn Raid won the 2003 running of the Hooper, in which The Judge Sez Who was sixth. Bennie Stutts Jr. trains Predawn Raid, a 5-year-old by Sir Cat who has made just 12 lifetime starts.

Country Be Gold is a 7-year-old son of Summer Squall who will be looking for his first graded stakes score. Last season, he won two overnight stakes at Delaware Park. Reynaldo Nobles trains Country Be Gold.

Entrants for the 46th running of the grade I Donn Handicap, $500,000 guaranteed, 3-year-olds & pp, 1 1/8 miles:

PP, Horse, Trainer, Jockey (Weight), Odds
1--Country Be Gold, Reynaldo Nobles, Rene Douglas (111), 20-1
2--Puzzlement, Allen Jerkens, Jorge Chavez (115), 10-1
3--Medaglia d'Oro, Bobby Frankel, Jerry Bailey (122), 8-5
4--Predawn Raid, Bennie Stutts Jr., Eibar Coat (112), 15-1
5--Funny Cide, Barclay Tagg, Jose Santos (119), 2-1
6--Bowman's Band, Allen Jerkens, Ramon Dominguez (116), 6-1
7--Seattle Fitz, Kiaran McLaughlin, John Velazquez (113), 6-1
8--The Judge Sez Who, Milt Wolfson, Cornelio Velasquez (112), 12-1

Stakes Time Record: 1:46 2/5 NTR (Jumping Hill, 1979)