01/16/2008 1:00AM

Hopes high as Jedi Code starts up


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Ian Wilkes got a first-hand taste of the Kentucky Derby experience as an integral part of the team that won the 2007 Derby with Street Sense.

Wilkes would love nothing more than to get back on the Derby trail again this winter. And he just might have the horse to take him there with the impeccably bred Jedi Code, who looks to take his first big step in that direction when he faces seven other 3-year-olds in Friday's $42,000 feature at Gulfstream Park.

Jedi Code is a son of Kentucky Derby runner-up Empire Maker and grandson of Derby winner Secretariat. A homebred owned by Janis Whitham, Jedi Code made three starts at 2, breaking slowly each time but overcoming his slow start to score an impressive 3 1/2-length maiden special weight victory when equipped with blinkers for the first time in his second start.

Jedi Code closed out his juvenile campaign Nov. 24 going a mile at Churchill Downs, rallying from last to finish fifth, just 2 1/4 lengths behind trainer Todd Pletcher's well-regarded Derby hopeful Monba.

"He probably could have been a lot closer but he kind of got trapped along the rail with no place to go," said Wilkes, who took over the training of many of the Nafzger horses a couple of years ago, and they still work closely together.

If the stretch-running Jedi Code is going to launch his 3-year-old campaign with a win, he'll need some help early in the race, especially with the speedy Doctor Hall in the field. A son of Mr. Greeley, Doctor Hall drew raves winning his debut by 2 1/4 lengths and earning an 86 Beyer Speed Figure at Calder on Nov. 23. But he failed to duplicate that performance when wheeled back three weeks later, stopping badly after rushing into a fast pace after a slow start.

Doctor Hall has worked forwardly for his return, including a mile in 1:44 at Calder on Dec. 30, and will be ridden by Eibar Coa for the first time.

Trainer Nick Zito has an arsenal of potential Derby candidates in his barn this winter and will try to add to that list with Web Gem. A son of Fusaichi Pegasus, Web Gem finished five lengths behind Jedi Code in their juvenile finales. In his previous start, Web Gem posted a 1 1/4-length maiden win going a mile over a sloppy track at Aqueduct.