05/29/2013 4:04PM

Belmont Stakes: Baffert still weighing Code West's chances

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Barbara D. Livingston
Code West, under consideration by his connections for the Belmont Stakes, seems likely to be withheld if the field grows too large for comfort.

Bob Baffert has won nine Triple Crown races, but the Hall of Fame trainer had little impact on this year’s races, with no runners in the Kentucky Derby and just one in the Preakness Stakes, and his participation in this year’s Belmont Stakes on June 8 is far from assured, with Baffert on Wednesday saying he was still contemplating whether to run Code West, who worked with stablemate Power Broker on Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs.

“When you’re going a mile and a half,” Baffert said, referring to the Belmont Stakes distance, “nobody gets in a big hurry.”

[BELMONT STAKES: Probable field and latest updates]

Least of all Baffert, who is prone to changing his mind, frequently relying on gut instinct to guide him. He was at Santa Anita on Wednesday, and said reports from his employees at Churchill Downs were encouraging regarding the team drill, but Baffert had his eye cast farther east, to Belmont Park. Baffert intimated that the field size, and, in particular, the status of Derby winner Orb, were critical components of the decision facing he and owner Gary West regarding the $1 million Belmont.

“Mr. West wants to compete if he has a legitimate chance,” Baffert said. “If it’s a big field, he’s not really interested.

Gary West owns Code West and Power Broker with his wife, Mary. Baffert said both 3-year-olds act as though they have stamina to handle the Belmont, though Baffert said last week that Code West was being pointed to the race, not Power Broker.

“They keep going and going,” he said.

On Wednesday, Code West was credited by Churchill Downs clockers with a five-furlong time of 1:00.60, while Power Broker got an official time of 1:13.20 for six furlongs. Jorge Alvarez, one of Baffert’s top exercise riders, was aboard Code West, while jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. was on Power Broker.

According to Churchill clockers, the fractions for Code West were 12.40, 24.80, and 36.80 seconds, which means his final quarter-mile was in 23.80 seconds. Under the wire, Power Broker was about two lengths ahead. Clockers had Code West with a six-furlong gallop-out in 1:14.80.

“They both worked well. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Baffert said. “There’s so many options with those two horses in the next two weeks.”

In chronological order, significant races for 3-year-olds in the Eastern time zone in upcoming weeks besides the Belmont include the $150,000 Easy Goer at 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park on the Belmont undercard, a pair of races on June  15 – the $150,000 Hill Prince at one mile on the turf at Belmont, and the $100,000 Matt Winn at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs – and the $150,000 Pegasus at 1 1/16 miles at Monmouth Park on June 16.

Code West most recently won a first-level allowance race against older horses at Pimlico. Power Broker won a race with similar conditions at Churchill on May  10. Neither ran in either the Derby or Preakness.

Also on the fence regarding the Belmont are the connections of Vyjack, who was 18th in the Derby. They said they are considering the race, though owner David Wilkenfeld and trainer Rudy Rodriguez are not expected to make a decision until closer to entry day Wednesday.

Rodriguez said he worked Vyjack six furlongs at Aqueduct on Tuesday – Vyjack did not appear on the track’s official work tab – and he liked how the horse relaxed behind two other horses.

Rodriguez said that when Vyjack can get behind horses – as he did when he rallied from off the pace to win the Grade 3 Gotham – he relaxes and will perform better. In the Derby, breaking from post 20, Rodriguez said jockey Garrett Gomez could not get Vyjack to relax.

Rodriguez said he may van Vyjack to Belmont over the weekend and have him train over Belmont’s main track for a few days before deciding whether or not to run. Vyjack has never raced at Belmont.

Wilkenfeld, who missed Vyjack’s training session Tuesday after being involved in a bicycle accident on Monday, said running in the Belmont is “a tough decision.”

“The Belmont is always a puzzler to me,” Wilkenfeld said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to how the race is run. The one thing you don’t want is a dead closer. Rudy sounded really excited how the horse is training. I feel like we could wait until the last minute.”

– additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee