Medaglia d'Oro, with two of his main rivals from last year now retired, will take on less-notable competition when he makes his 4-year-old debut in the $400,000 Strub Stakes today at Santa Anita.
The Strub will be Medaglia d'Oro's first race since finishing second to longshot Volponi in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 26 at Arlington Park.
Medaglia d'Oro was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old of 2002 along with War Emblem and Came Home.
War Emblem, victorious in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, won the award, but Medaglia d'Oro was perhaps the best horse in the division after disappointing finishes in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Medaglia d'Oro was not worse than second in his final four races. He was second to longshot Sarava in the Belmont Stakes, then won the Jim Dandy and Travers stakes at Saratoga before his runner-up effort in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Far behind Medaglia d'Oro in the Classic were War Emblem and Came Home, who had won the Santa Anita Derby and Del Mar's Pacific Classic but came up empty in his biggest races outside of Southern California. War Emblem was sold for $17 million before the Breeders' Cup and sent afterward to Japan, and Came Home was retired after the Classic and sent to Kentucky. So, Medaglia d'Oro will be heavily favored against five rivals with considerably less credentials in the Strub, a Grade II race at 1 1/8 miles. Olmodavor, Castle Gandolfo, Easy Grades, Tracemark and Pass Rush make up the rest of the field.
Olmodavor, a son of A.P. Indy, will be making his stakes debut for trainer Richard Mandella. Castle Gandolfo, well beaten in the Kentucky Derby and winless in three races in this country, and Tracemark, second in three of his last four graded races, are both trained by Craig Dollase. Easy Grades' most notable effort was a second-place finish to Came Home in the Santa Anita Derby. Pass Rush was a 3 1/2-length winner against a subpar field in the San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 11.
Medaglia d'Oro was purchased privately almost a year ago by trainer Bobby Frankel for owner Ed Gann, and won his first race for them -- the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 17.
The fact Medaglia d'Oro hasn't raced in more than three months should not be a concern.
Frankel excels at having horses ready to run after layoffs and this colt is proven in that situation. He broke his maiden by 4 1/2 lengths after a two-month layoff last year at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and his Jim Dandy victory by almost 14 lengths also came after two months off.
Frankel will be going for his second consecutive victory in the Strub, winning last year with Mizzen Mast.
Meanwhile, the Indiana-bred Pass Rush will be trying to become the first horse since Silver Charm in 1998 to win the San Fernando and the Strub.
Pass Rush, owned by Michael Tabor and trained by Patrick Byrne, has won or finished second in stakes in California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Texas.
Before the Strub, Kafwain -- one of the more consistent 2-year-olds in the country in 2002 -- will run in the $150,000 San Vicente Stakes, a Grade II race at seven furlongs.
Kafwain, owned by the Thoroughbred Corp. and trained by Bob Baffert, won three of eight races last year, earning nearly $536,000. His bankroll would have been more had he not been disqualified from second to fourth in the Hollywood Futurity, his most recent race on Dec. 21.
Kafwain will have five opponents in the San Vicente -- his main threats considered to be recent maiden winners Runnin' On Nitro and Southern Image.
Jorge Chavez was scheduled to come west to ride Runnin' On Nitro but suffered an ankle injury in a spill on Thursday at Gulfstream Park and will be sidelined indefinitely. Julie Krone picked up the mount.
The San Vicente, which will be run for the 62nd time, is a prep for the Santa Anita Derby on April 5. Eleven San Vicente winners of the race have gone on to win the Santa Anita Derby -- the most recent being Came Home last year. Others include Kentucky Derby winners Majestic Prince (1969), Lucky Debonair (1965), Swaps (1955), and Hill Gail (1952).
Barry Irwin and Jeff Siegel's Team Valor and Margaux Farm of Midway, Ky., have purchased a 75% interest in Omega Code, who won the San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 12, for $1.1 million.
Omega Code, a Florida-bred, will remain with trainer Wesley Ward, who owns the remaining 25% of the 3-year-old. Omega Code will probably race next in the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita on March 1.