10/23/2001 11:00PM

Juvenile: Post turns Officer from stalker to stalkee


ELMONT, N.Y. - Bob Baffert was enjoying Wednesday's Indian Summer morning on the Belmont backstretch, watching his trio of Breeders' Cup horses jog over the main track without incident.

Then came the post-position draw for Saturday's World Thoroughbred Championships card. And Baffert's smile turned upside down.

Officer, Baffert's undefeated multiple-stakes winning colt, drew post 2 for the $1 million Juvenile, an inside post that ruined the white-haired trainer's morning.

"It [stinks]," Baffert said in between TV interviews. "When I get a bad post I dwell on it for a half an hour and then I get over it."

In his last three starts, Officer had an outside post, enabling jockey Victor Espinoza to watch what the horses to his inside were doing. In those races, Officer stalked the speed, until Espinoza decided it was time to go.

"He's usually the stalker," Baffert said. "Now, he's going to be the stalkee. Now that he drew the 2, he better be the real deal. Victor's going to have to let him run away from there a little bit."

Despite Baffert's negative vibe on the draw, Officer still figures to go off the shortest-priced favorite on the Breeders' Cup card. Daily Racing Form handicapper Mike Watchmaker installed Officer as the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the 12-horse field.

Officer, a son of 1991 Juvenile runner-up Bertrando, has won all five of his starts by a combined 25 1/4 lengths. His last race was a demolition in the Grade 1 Champagne run at the same distance and over the same track as the Juvenile.

The last two odds-on favorites in the Juvenile were defeated: Dehere was eighth at 3-5 in 1993 and Easy Goer finished second at 1-5 in 1988. Chief's Crown won the inaugural running of the Juvenile as the 3-5 favorite.

If Officer goes to the lead, he could find himself in company with two of the best horses in the race. Siphonic, the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity winner, drew the rail while Came Home, the Hopeful winner, drew post 11. Watchmaker installed both horses at 6-1.

Siphonic used the rail post to his advantage in the Breeders' Futurity, leading every step of the way over the historically speed-favoring Keeneland surface. But trainer David Hofmans did not want to employ the same tactic in the Juvenile. He was hoping to get a middle post position and leave the role of pacesetter to Came Home.

"Probably the worst place we could be," Hofmans said of the rail.

Trainer Paco Gonzalez was pleased that Came Home drew post 11. That could put him in the role of stalker, perhaps clocking Officer.

"It's a very good post for us," Gonzalez said. "I wanted him to be on the outside."

Came Home, a son of Gone West, is the horse Baffert seems most worried about.

"Came Home is a very good horse, he's close to being the same caliber of horse [as Officer]," Baffert said. "Came Home has had to run hard, he's been tested, he's answered the competition."

Johannesburg is undefeated in six starts on turf in Europe, winning a trio of Group 1 stakes sprinting. Trainer Aidan O'Brien calls him "a very exceptional 2-year-old" and is expecting a big run out of him.

Publication, who is 2 for 2 including a victory in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, and Repent were the last two Juvenile starters to arrive on the grounds on Wednesday.

Officer, Came Home, Siphonic, Publication, and Essence of Dubai are all eligible for a $250,000 bonus if they win the Juvenile. All five horses won designated stakes races earlier this summer as part of the Bessemer Trust Two-Year-Old Challenge.