10/15/2001 11:00PM

Officer breezes, and gets a new opponent


ARCADIA, Calif. - Given that fast horses are expected to produce fast workouts, form held Tuesday morning at Santa Anita. Officer and Kona Gold led a flurry of workout activity by nine Breeders' Cup candidates training toward the Oct. 27 World Thoroughbred Championships.

Officer, Essence of Dubai, and Ibn Al Haitham worked for the Juvenile; Kona Gold and El Corredor for the Sprint; Habibti and Imperial Gesture for the Juvenile Fillies; Val Royal for the Mile; and Tranquility Lake for the Distaff. In addition, trainer Bob Hess announced that Striking Song, impressive five-length maiden winner Oct. 8, was pre-entered in the Juvenile.

He will have to beat Officer, who is expected to start as the shortest price on the card. Officer worked a half-mile, breezing, in 48 seconds on Tuesday, wearing the blinkers he has worn in all five starts. "They keep him more focused," trainer Bob Baffert said. In the work, Baffert said, Officer "went nice and easy, just breezing."

Striking Song jumped into the Juvenile picture with a fast (1:35.90) one-mile maiden score Oct. 8 that earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure. Said Hess: "He has the most ability of any horse I have had. Whether he can beat Officer is another question. It's definitely asking a lot." Striking Song, a $1.4 million son of Unbridled's Song, has raced four times.

Trainer Eoin Harty will start Essence of Dubai and Ibn Al Haitham in the Juvenile. The one-two finishers in the Sept. 29 Norfolk Stakes, they were scheduled to arrive Wednesday in New York. Essence of Dubai worked in company with an unraced colt, getting six furlongs in 1:11.80, fastest of 12 works at the distance.

Ibn Al Haitham went five furlongs by himself in 1:01. "He didn't work particularly fast, but he worked really, really well," Harty said, adding, "He's really flourished the last couple months." Ibn Al Haitham, a maiden, was compromised by a wide trip in the Norfolk.

Harty also worked Imperial Gesture a half-mile in 48.80 seconds. Runner-up Sept. 30 in the slow (1:37.77 for a mile) Oak Leaf Stakes, Imperial Gesture was pre-entered in the Juvenile Fillies, Harty said, but only as a back-up to the more highly regarded Tempera. If Tempera continues to train well, Imperial Gesture will run the day after the Breeers' Cup, in the Grade 3 Tempted at Belmont.

While Tempera has not raced since the Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 26, Debutante winner Habibti also been virtually forgotten. Habibti scratched from the Oak Leaf Stakes with a temperature, and Baffert has been playing catch-up. She worked seven furlongs Tuesday in 1:26, though Baffert said he clocked her in 1:25. "I gave her a stiff one, it was a good work," Baffert said. "She was bouncing back to the barn, that's what matters."

Baffert also worked Sprint contender El Corredor in 58.40 seconds. El Corredor broke off three lengths behind a workmate, dropped back farther on the turn, then stormed home impressively. In a race filled with speed, the work suggested El Corredor is a legitimate threat from behind.

Kona Gold, meanwhile, further confirmed his position as the Sprint favorite with a five-furlong workout that stunned trainer Bruce Headley. "He looked like he was going 1:05," Headley said. "He just lumbered around there. When someone told me he went (58.20), I said 'no, you missed him.' But he did." Kona Gold's bullet work suggested that his runner-up finish Oct. 6 in the Ancient Title did him a world of good.

"I knew that race would tone him up," Headley said. "It worked last year, and it looks like it's working again. We're going to try and make history." Regular rider Alex Solis was up for the drill, the fastest of 32 works.

Trainer Julio Canani also worked his two Breeders' Cup candidates. Distaff entrant Tranquility Lake worked five furlongs, breezing, in 59.60 seconds. Mile entrant Val Royal worked a half-mile, breezing, in 48.20 seconds. "She was just cruising," Canani said of Tranquility Lake. "[Eddie] Delahoussaye got off and said 'she's very strong, she's loaded.' "

Canani said Val Royal came out of his Oak Tree Mile win in super condition. "He's got more weight now than when he ran," Canani said.

Both horses will work once more before shipping to Belmont next week. Canani declined to discuss Val Royal's jockey assignment. Jose Valdivia rode Val Royal in the Oct. 7 Oak Tree Mile.