02/15/2009 1:00AM

Desert Code not fully cranked for Daytona


ARCADIA, Calif. - The problem for trainer David Hofmans on Sunday is that Desert Code's last race is also the main objective for 2009 - the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita in November.

Desert Code won the BC Turf Sprint in a 36-1 upset last October. To get to that race later this year, Hofmans must strike a balance by designing a campaign that will keep Desert Code in top form but not race him too much.

The first objective is Sunday's $100,000 Daytona Handicap over the same course as the BC Turf Sprint - about 6 1/2 furlongs on Santa Anita's hillside turf course.

"We've been trying to keep him fresh and as fit as we can," Hofmans said. "There's a little bit of a worry that he might need it. I'd like him to be 50 pounds lighter."

Owned by Tarabilla Farms, Desert Code has won 4 of 6 starts on Santa Anita's hillside turf course. Remarkably, the 2008 Daytona was his worst of those performances, an 11th-place finish after a wide trip. He has won 2 of 3 subsequent starts on the course.

The race could be switched to 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track if the forecast as of Friday for significant rain is accurate. Desert Code would stay in the race if that occurs, Hofmans said.

"If it's a little wet, it's better," Hofmans said of the synthetic main track. "Maybe it resembles grass more, I don't know."

Desert Code, 5, starts from the rail. Aaron Gryder, who rode Desert Code to placings in two stakes in 2007 and 2008, has the mount.

Desert Code would face a different field if the race stays on turf or is moved to the main track. A move to the main track could prevent three-time stakes winner Sky Cape from starting, trainer and co-owner Kristin Mulhall said.

"I don't know if I'd run," she said. "He's run so well down the hill."

Sky Cape won an optional claimer and was second in the Baldwin Stakes on the hillside turf course last winter. In the spring and summer, he won three consecutive stakes, including the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar.

Sky Cape has made one start in the last five months, finishing sixth in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes over a mile on turf on Dec. 26.

"He's fit now," Mulhall said. "He needed the last race."