04/11/2007 11:00PM

Desert Code gets crucial route test


ARCADIA, Calif. - Desert Code is perfect in two sprints on turf, but that is a category with limited options for a 3-year-old in Southern California.

The more lucrative prizes are in races at a mile or farther, which makes Desert Code's appearance in Saturday's $100,000 La Puente Stakes at Santa Anita a pivotal race for him. The mile turf race will tell trainer David Hofmans what to expect from Desert Code in coming months.

"He acts like he wants to do it," Hofmans said of running in longer races. "I think it's something of a test. We want to see if he is limited."

Owned by Tarabilla Farms, Desert Code has won two races on Santa Anita's hillside turf course this year - an allowance race on Feb. 18 and the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes on March 10. In the Baldwin, Desert Code was fourth on the hillside portion of the course, took the lead in the stretch, and won by 1 3/4 lengths. "He rated and he ran on," Hofmans said.

Desert Code has been trained with an eye toward longer races. Jockey Richard Migliore was aboard for a five-furlong workout in 1:01.80 on Sunday at Hollywood Park. The workout was designed to teach Desert Code to be patient in the first half of a race.

"Going into the first turn, if they've never done it before, they can be a little apprehensive sometimes," Hofmans said.

Desert Code drew the outside post and has six rivals, three of them making their first start in Southern California.

Golden Balls won twice in England last year and was purchased for approximately $400,000 last fall. He is now trained by Jim Cassidy.

Star Inside, now trained by Jack Carava, had excellent form in Ireland last summer and fall, winning 3 of his last 4 starts. He finished second behind the well-regarded Anton Chekhov in a stakes in Ireland last November.

Carava is not sure how Star Inside will run in his U.S. debut.

"He's trained the same, not a lot of improvement, but he looks good," Carava said. "I don't know what to expect. My hope is that he's a good horse that runs in the afternoons."

Streets Ahead won the Stonehenge Stakes in England last year. In his first start in North America, he finished fourth behind the eventual champion 2-year-old filly Dreaming of Anna in the Summer Stakes at Woodbine last September.

Vaunt and Vauquelin, who are both stakes-placed, and Shem, who is making his stakes debut, are the other starters.