Updated on 09/16/2011 7:07AM

Officer returns to the scene

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In other circumstances, Officer might have faced the same question this weekend as Santa Anita Derby favorites Came Home and Mayakovsky - how far can he run?

But Officer has not raced in nearly four months. So the question is not how far he can run, but whether he can still run fast. A brilliant 2-year-old, Officer makes his first start as a 3-year-old in the $100,000 Zany Tactics for California-breds Sunday at Santa Anita, race 3 on a card that includes the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap for filly-mare turf sprinters.

Officer will be odds-on in the 6 1/2-furlong Zany Tactics, which drew six starters. If he performs as well as he has trained for Bob Baffert, the result is a formality. "He looks great and he's been training awesome," Baffert said. "We're just going to bring him back, place him in the right spots, and gradually ease him into better races."

It is the same plan Officer followed last year when he won five straight and emerged as the nation's most exciting 2-year-old. Successive wins against Cal-breds preceded Grade 3 and Grade 2 wins, after which he shipped to Belmont and romped in the Grade 1 Champagne. He returned briefly to California, then retraced his steps to New York and three weeks later was the lopsided favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Officer got into a speed duel in the Breeders' Cup, and faded to fifth. Baffert speculates the colt may have displaced his palate, and he wheeled him back seven days later in the California Cup Juvenile. The runner-up finish was his second of three straight losses.

"Looking back, maybe I should have done what they did with Came Home - just forget about him [after the Breeders' Cup] and freshen him up," Baffert said. Officer lost the Cal Cup, ran third in the Hollywood Futurity, then finally got a break.

Owned by Prince Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corp., Officer was turned out in nearby Bradbury, and went back to the track in late February. The freshening did him good. Officer looks terrific physically; his workouts have been sharp. He has won five races and $740,010 from eight starts, and is being considered for the Derby Trial or Preakness.

"He's fit to go a mile and a sixteenth, so he shouldn't bounce off this race," Baffert said. "We haven't really figured out a game plan, we just want to run him and see if he's back."

Officer's rivals include Menacing Dennis, McManus, Flying Supercon, Hot War, and Duddly Doo Run.

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