10/28/2002 12:00AM

Can Vindication break the jinx?

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ARLINGTON, HEIGHTS, Ill. - Now it's Bob Baffert's turn to take on the Juvenile-Derby jinx.

Baffert, who has trained three of the last six Kentucky Derby winners, had gone 0 for 6 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile before Saturday. But, when Vindication put away stablemate Bull Market and kept his other stablemate, Kafwain, at bay to win the $1.07 million Juvenile by 2 3/4 lengths at Arlington Park, the focus immediately shifted to next year's Derby.

No Juvenile winner has ever come back to win the Derby. Of the 11 who have tried, only Chief's Crown (1984 Juvenile winner) and Timber Country (1994) finished as high as third.

Vindication, a son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, completed a 4-for-4 campaign with his Juvenile victory and virtually assured himself an Eclipse Award as 2-year-old champion. It would be the first champion owned by Satish Sanan's Padua Stable, which purchased the horse for $2.15 million at auction.

Vindication did it by winning the first Juvenile ever run at 1 1/8 miles, a result of Arlington Park's inability to run the race at the Juvenile's usual 1 1/16-mile distance. Though Vindication came home in a relatively slow 13.81 seconds, his first three furlongs of 1:09.98 - including a second quarter run in 22.82 seconds - were most impressive. He covered nine furlongs in 1:49.61 and returned $10.20 as the second choice.

"I think we saw a pretty fantastic horse yesterday,'' Baffert said Sunday morning. "`I'm really excited about him and I think the fans are really excited about him. This is the time of year everybody wants to start thinking about next year's Derby. War Emblem,'' Baffert said of this year's Derby winner, "has been a big fan favorite; I think [Vindication] is a good enough horse to fill his shoes.''

Baffert said he doesn't believe in the Derby-Juvenile jinx. He believes one reason the Juvenile has not been a barometer of success for the Derby is because a speed horse can often times carry his speed 1 1/16 miles and win the Juvenile, but can't carry it 1 1/4 miles for the Derby.

"A mile and an eighth really separates a lot of these horses, they were pretty well spread out,'' Baffert said. "The hardest part for us is we need to keep him sound and healthy. He's going to get better as he goes along; he's just getting better with every race.''

While Baffert said Vindication would not run again this year, he did not rule out running Kafwain and Bull Market again. Kafwain has already run around two turns, winning the Norfolk Stakes, so he is not behind in that regard. Bull Market ran a huge race to be second in the Norfolk while cutting out fast fractions, but got tired late in the Juvenile. Baffert said he may want to run Bull Market again and experiment with taking him off the pace.

The only other horse to distinguish himself in the Juvenile was Hold That Tiger, who finished third after breaking slow. He was last, 11 lengths back, after the opening half-mile and had to circle seven wide around the turn and into the stretch. While still green changing his leads, he closed late to pass Bull Market for third.

Hold That Tiger, a half-brother to Belmont Stakes winner Editor's Note, returned to Ireland on Sunday, but trainer Aidan O'Brien will certainly consider brining him back for next year's Kentucky Derby.

"He was very green in the race and to come to the outside and keep going, and Kieren [Fallon] didn't beat him up. I think he would have had a good experience,'' said O'Brien, who also sent out fifth-place finisher Van Nistelrooy and eighth-place finisher Tomahawk. "I think [Hold That Tiger] would only come on from the run, so I think he's a horse to look forward to for next year.''

The biggest disappoint of the Juvenile was Whywhywhy, who was sent off the 5-2 favorite following the scratch of morning-line favorite Sky Mesa on Friday. Whywhywhy raced close up through the opening six furlongs, but tired badly entering the turn and finished 10th, beaten nearly 17 lengths.

"I made a mistake I won't make again,'' trainer Patrick Biancone said. "I would not run in the Juvenile again without running around two turns.''

Biancone added that Whywhywhy would be pointed down next spring's Triple Crown trail. Zavata, Biancone's other entrant, was eased in the Juvenile. He will be kept sprinting next year.