03/01/2011 1:25PM

Baffert plans to send quartet in Santa Anita Handicap

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Barbara D. Livingston
First Dude worked five furlongs in 58.80 at Santa Anita on Tuesday, a move trainer Bob Baffert called "effortless."

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Bob Baffert will have four starters in Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap and admits he will need that many runners to have a chance to beat Twirling Candy in California’s premier winter race for older horses.

Tuesday, Baffert worked three of his hopefuls at Santa Anita – First Dude, Game On Dude and Tweebster. Spurrier worked at Hollywood Park on Sunday.

“Right now, it looks like all four unless something changes between now and then,” he said. “Twirling Candy is a good horse, but it’s the Big Cap and you’ve got to give them a chance.”

Twirling Candy will be a strong favorite when he runs in search of his third stakes win of the meeting. Trained by John Sadler for Jenny Craig, Twirling Candy won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 and the Grade 2 Strub Stakes on Feb. 5.

BRAD FREE: After First Dude's work, Twirling Candy no longer looks like a lock

Baffert’s quartet has yet to win a stakes this year. Tweebster was second to stablemate Indian Firewater in the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 15 and second by 4 1/2 lengths to Twirling Candy in the Strub. The Big Cap will be his first start at 1 1/4 miles, and Baffert said Tweebster must have a better performance to beat Twirling Candy. Tuesday, Tweebster worked five furlongs in 1:00.40.

“I think he’s got to move it up, but he’s training well and he’s improving with every out,” he said. “He got beat a ways by the other horse, but you’ve got to take a chance.”

First Dude had the fastest five-furlong workout at Santa Anita on Tuesday - 58.80 seconds. Baffert described the work as “effortless."

"He worked a little quicker than the other ones, but he’s sort of deceiving,” he said.

The Big Cap will be First Dude’s first start for Baffert. Owned by breeder Don Dizney, the 4-year-old colt was previously trained by Dale Romans. Last year, First Dude placed in six stakes, including a second to the Baffert-trained Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness Stakes and a third in the Belmont Stakes.

Eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November, First Dude was a troubled fourth in his only start this year, the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 29.

Game On Dude was fourth in the Belmont Stakes last June, his final start of 2010. He returned to win an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 27. Tuesday, Game On Dude was timed in 1:00.40 for five furlongs. “Game On Dude worked really nice,” Baffert said. “Everybody worked smoothly.”

Baffert won the Big Cap for the second time last year with Misremembered, who beat 13 rivals. This year’s field will be slightly smaller. Aside from Twirling Candy, who will carry top weight of 122 pounds, and the Baffert-trained quartet, the other probable starters are Aggie Engineer, Gladding, Pode Ir, Quindici Man, Setsuko and Soul Candy.