Haskin's Derby Report (3/18)--Cont.

We can see why former trainer Mark Reid, who also picked out You and Labamta Babe for Frankel, took an instant liking to Medaglia d'Oro, and why Frankel jumped at the chance to buy him. He is a magnificent-looking colt with three white ankles who captures your attention the second you look at him. He was on his toes in the paddock and post parade and looked more than ready physically to take on Siphonic and the others.

At the start, Laffit Pincay sent Medaglia d'Oro to the front along the inside, and the colt cut the corner beautifully heading into the clubhouse turn. He set a solid pace, with Siphonic tracking him closely. Then, Kent Desormeaux disrupted the flow of the race by making an early move with USS Tinosa. When the gray moved up on Siphonic's outside, Jerry Bailey was forced to put Siphonic in another gear, and both horses whizzed right on by Medaglia d'Oro. In a few strides, Bailey and Siphonic found themselves with a length lead heading into the far turn. Pincay just sat chilly on Medaglia d'Oro, who was now almost two lengths off the pace and seemingly dead in the water.

Nearing the quarter pole, Pincay began pushing Medaglia d'Oro, and the big colt came back again along the inside, as a surprised Bailey took a look back over his left shoulder. Medaglia d'Oro squeezed his way inside Siphonic, who began drifting slightly off the rail. Pincay went to a couple of right-hand whips and Medaglia d'Oro came charging through like a fresh closer. He was striding out beautifully through the final furlong, and kept building up momentum. In the final sixteenth, he actually looked as if he were just finding his best stride. His final two fractions of :24 2/5 and :06 2/5 were not what one would expect from a horse who had never been farther than 6 furlongs and making his third career start.

So, now what? Can this horse be ready to go 1 1/4 miles on Derby Day off one more start or does Frankel wish he were able to have gotten another race in him? "No, no, no! " Frankel said emphatically. "All that is overrated, especially when you have a horse who's easy to train. And he's a big, strong horse. Quality is quality, and all you need is a horse who is bred to go a distance and have the right style."

Medaglia d'Oro now will head East to face Mayakovsky and Saarland in the Wood Memorial. USS Tinosa ran well enough, and might be more effective going longer. Dave Hofmans said Siphonic was "rubber-legged," while Bailey said he "had nothing left," not the things you want to hear at this stage. He could very well be one of those horses who peak at 2. But although Bailey likely will head elsewhere, we're still curious what he can do away from Santa Anita, just to see if he can recapture the brilliance he showed last year at Keeneland.

Growing up in Gotham

There is no need to perform any kind of dissection of the Gotham Stakes. It was all pretty simple. Mayakovsky, a handsome and brilliantly fast colt, was trained hard by Patrick Biancone to make up for the time the colt lost following a hairline fracture of the left hind leg last September. Mayakovsky then went out and ran like a horse who was geared up for this race, setting blazing fractions, while well in hand, then coasting home to win by 3 3/4 lengths in a sharp 1:34 4/5. He did drift out pretty badly at the end, and although Biancone downplayed it, saying he's done it before, it's still not something you want to see from a horse coming back from a hind leg fracture. Biancone said he's having Derby dreams, but if Johannesburg makes it here on May 4, it doesn't seem necessary to try to push this promising colt a mile and a quarter, considering the circumstances. If he should romp in the Wood Memorial, the temptation no doubt will be great to take it one more step. It's still too early to tell just how good this colt is. He is such an attractive horse with a gorgeous head, and just looks the part in every way. We hope to see him around for a long time.

Saarland, on the other hand, is a different story. A lot of people aren't sold on this big, long-striding son of Unbridled. The one nagging question we've had, in addition to his lack of speed in past races, has been the form of the Remsen Stakes and the fact he's only going to have two preps before the Derby. Nokoma's poor effort in the Florida Derby certainly didn't flatter the Remsen form, but with that said, the Gotham was a near-perfect prep for him. Seeing him about 4 lengths off a :45 half and then putting in a strong move around the far turn to pull within two lengths of Mayakovsky through three-quarters in 1:09 2/5 made us forget about that scheduled allowance prep that never filled. This is exactly what he needed to get him sharp and fit for the next two races.

Being such a big, long-striding colt, he doesn't have that explosive push coming out of the far turn you want to see, and it takes him a while to get rolling. That is one of the reasons Mayakovsky was able to spurt away to a 5 1/2-length lead on him. But with the right scenario, that may all prove moot in a race like the Derby, with its long stretch run. We still don't know how talented Saarland really is, and he does appear to be lumbering along at times because of his huge stride. But in a year like this, with so many questions surrounding many of the big-name contenders, we can't understand why people still knock this horse. He did run three-quarters in 1:09 4/5 in his first start of the year and finished up his mile in 1:35 3/5. Whether he's good enough or not to win the Derby, he's still a grade II stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles and has a pedigree most of the others would kill for. The bottom line is that the Gotham was a big step in the right direction.

Equality new star in the making

We don't know how far a son of Mt. Livermore out of a Gone West mare wants to run, but we do know that Equality is a colt with enormous potential. With the proven stakes winner Political Attack cruising along on an easy lead, it was quite a sight seeing Equality blow right by him on the far turn with the rider still high up in the saddle and his hands completely motionless. He then drew clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths, and his time of 1:43 3/5 was almost two full seconds faster than the Florida Oaks the race before. And this was after breaking to the outside and having to go 5-wide into the clubhouse turn.

He does have a tendency to paddle his right leg. And with his big stride, he didn't come out of the turns very well and had to yanked in pretty hard. But with this race and his previous race, a 16 1/2-length allowance win at Gulfstream, behind him, we may be dealing with a very talented individual. Just watching him warm up, he has a regal look about him, breaking off into a show horse canter with his neck slightly arched. He's also in good hands with trainer Graham Motion.

We must also mention the second-place finisher, Tails of the Crypt, who was rallying strongly in the final furlong, and who has a solid distance pedigree. The favorite Bunk N Ted appeared to be climbing right from the start and never fired.