04/08/2002 11:00PM

Officer likely goes next in Derby Trial

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Officer's impressive comeback win in the Zany Tactics on Sunday has put him on target for the Grade 3 Derby Trial on April 27 at Churchill Downs.

"Right now, the Derby Trial would be the most logical spot," trainer Bob Baffert said Tuesday. "The Lexington [April 20] is a little quick back."

At one mile around one turn, the Derby Trial is a perfect fit for Officer, who is 5 for 6 around one turn, but 0 for 2 around two turns. The 1 1/16-mile Lexington is a two-turn race, and Baffert will resist Derby temptation.

"We're not going to get in a hurry with him," he said. "Now that he's back, we want to keep the jet-packs on his back."

Officer crushed five rivals Sunday at Santa Anita in the 6 1/2-furlong Zany Tactics for California-breds, his sixth win in nine starts and his first start since Dec. 15. The Zany Tactics marked a reunion with jockey Victor Espinoza, who was removed from Officer for his final two starts as a 2-year-old. Espinoza has been aboard for each of Officer's wins, and said Officer has matured since last season.

"He's more cool than before, he's getting more professional," he said.

Officer is owned by Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corp., whose Kentucky Oaks candidate Habibti worked six furlongs Tuesday in 1:12. Baffert also worked the 2-year-old filly that the Thoroughbred Corp. purchased for $1.9 million at Barretts. The unnamed daughter of Stormy Atlantic looked sensational working three furlongs 34.60 seconds, fastest of eight works at the distance.

Came Home overcame obstacles

Came Home's post-race fever subsided Tuesday morning, three days after his workmanlike victory in the Santa Anita Derby. Came Home came down with a temperature Monday, and trainer Paco Gonzalez had precautionary bloodwork done on the colt. The tests came back negative, suggesting the fever was likely a result of stress from the race and not a sickness that several 2-year-olds in Gonzalez's barn were battling.

By late Tuesday morning, Came Home's temperature was down to a normal 100.3 degrees, and Gonzalez said the colt would return to the track Thursday, pending results of a second blood test. Tentative plans call for Came Home to work five-eighths of a mile next week at Santa Anita, and ship on April 20 to Churchill Downs to prepare for the Kentucky Derby.

Gonzalez hopes the next three weeks go smoother than the previous weeks. Notwithstanding a stall incident, fever, and abbreviated training route leading to the Santa Anita Derby, Gonzalez revealed Tuesday that Came Home also was dealing with a previously undisclosed foot problem two days before the race.

Came Home tore off a shoe in a Thursday morning gallop that easily could have prevented him from starting.

"The foot came up a little sore, it was pretty hot," Gonzalez said. "I soaked it, and soaked it, and by the time of the race, he was fine."

Kudos next goal: Hollywood Gold Cup

The Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup is the next major objective for the 5-year-old gelding Kudos, whose Oaklawn Handicap victory on Saturday established him as one of the country's top handicap runners. Only three other horses this year have won nine-furlong races with a Beyer Speed Figure higher than the 113 earned by Kudos in his 4 3/4-length win at Oaklawn. The win was his sixth from 12 starts since he was gelded.

Trainer Richard Mandella's best handicap horses recently have been South American imports not originally nominated to the Breeders' Cup. Kudos, a Kentucky-bred son of Kris S. owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, is Breeders' Cup-nominated.

"He's eligible, and I'm not used to that," Mandella said with a smile. "He's a gelding, he's got his game down, and now I need to focus on a campaign."

Mandella said Kudos could train up to the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 14, or prep in the Californian on June 15 at Hollywood Park. It was bad luck in the Santa Anita Handicap that allowed jockey Eddie Delahoussaye to adapt a new style for Kudos. He steadied early in the Big 'Cap, dropped out of contention early, then rallied to finish a credible third. At Oaklawn, Delahoussaye allowed Kudos to drop out of it, then asked him for run at the three-eighths, and Kudos swept clear late.

* San Luis Obispo Handicap winner Nazirali popped a split and is out of the Grade 1 San Juan Capistrano on closing day, April 21. Trainer Julio Canani said the setback was temporary and that Nazirali, a 5-year-old gelding, will return during the spring-summer meet at Hollywood Park. The absence of Nazirali from the San Juan means the Mandella-trained Cagney will be one of the favorites in the "about" mile and three-quarter turf race.

* Mountain Rage worked five furlongs Tuesday in 1:00.40, and is expected to be favored Sunday in the $75,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile and an eighth on grass. Mountain Rage, trained by Baffert, has won three of four starts on grass, including a two-length win March 14 in a minor stakes. The main foe for Mountain Rage will be Johar, a rapidly improving Mandella-trained colt coming off an impressive allowance win March 28. Other possible La Puente starters include Dark Sorceror, Doc Holiday, Lawn Mower, Night Passion, Red Briar, and Stormy Forever.