12/28/2006 12:00AM

As usual, Baffert loaded with prospects

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The road to the Derby began Tuesday at Santa Anita, and it was hardly a surprise that the two best races for 2-year-old colts were won by horses from a stable that enters winter with another deep group.

Both opening-day winners were trained by Bob Baffert, and neither was impressive according to the clock, but maybe Dec. 26 is too early to be critical of Tenfold or Pirates Deputy.

Tenfold scored a workmanlike maiden victory under ideal conditions. Racing seven furlongs, he got a soft opening quarter (22.77 seconds), shook off a challenge on the turn, and went one-paced to the wire. He won by two lengths in a modest 1:23.86 and earned an ordinary 79 Beyer Figure.

Baffert said he believes Tenfold wants to run long.

"He's the kind of horse that will be breezing along, and you push the button to go and he really doesn't accelerate," Baffert said. "He has that one-paced kind of speed. He didn't accelerate [Tuesday], but he wasn't tired. I think that means he wants to stretch out."

As for Pirates Deputy, he won the seven-furlong Cal Breeders' Champion Stakes by a length, rallying from behind a hot pace to win in 1:23.66, good for an 82 Beyer Figure. Baffert hopes the sprint will allow Pirates Deputy to produce more speed at two turns.

The tricky part, when Tenfold and Pirates Deputy run next, is deciding how much credence to put in low-figure wins by horses flattered by conditions. Tenfold had an easy trip up front; Pirates Deputy won from behind in a race that was fast early, and slow late. If either is to become graded-stakes caliber, they must improve.

If they do not make it, there are others. Baffert is loaded with prospects, though he said his focus has changed.

"Everyone thinks it is all Derby or nothing, but I'm trying to keep these horses around longer, and try to be more patient," he said. "It used to be the Derby was the main thing, but having a nice horse is more important."

Make no mistake - Baffert wants to win the Derby again, and beyond Tenfold and Pirates Deputy, he has the stock. Hollywood Juvenile winner E Z Warrior worked five furlongs in 1:00 Thursday at Hollywood Park, and is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut Jan. 7 in the six-furlong San Miguel.

"He's a fast horse; we know he's fast," Baffert said. "Until you send them long you don't know what you've got."

Tender shins forced Baffert to back off E Z Warrior in summer; he won his first two starts but has not raced since July.

Bubbling just under the surface are a host of Baffert-trained maiden colts that could make an impact.

* Silver Light is a Silver Deputy colt and a half to Grade 2 winner Strong Contender. Silver Light finished fourth in his July 29 debut at Del Mar, and has a solid work pattern for his comeback Saturday in race 5. Silver Light exits a live maiden race. Subsequent Grade 1 winner Stormello won it; subsequent stakes winner Dilemma was second.

* Painted Shadow is a sharp-working Forest Camp colt nearing his debut. Baffert said, "He is pretty fast; he'll run soon." Painted Shadow turned in the fastest six-furlong work of the morning on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita - 1:10.60. He will be well meant first time out.

* New Heights is a $600,000 Unbridled's Song colt and a half to Grade 1 winner Pussycat Doll.

"He's a really big horse," said Baffert, adding that he is concerned about pushing him too hard.

New Heights, who has not raced, worked six furlongs breezing, in 1:12.80 on Dec. 15. Baffert said he would not run for a while.

* Air Commander, a Point Given half-brother to Grade 2 winner Medallist, is up to five furlongs for his comeback. He finished a closing fifth in his debut Oct. 7.

* Dart River, sired by El Corredor, is an unraced half to a Grade 3 winner and up to five furlongs.

* Fortified is an unraced $350,000 colt sired by Seeking the Gold. He is up to five furlongs in his works.

* Visible Truth is a $420,000 son of Silver Deputy who is expected to improve off his seventh-place finish in his debut Dec. 17.

For Baffert, the quantity is there. The quality will be determined over the course of the winter meet.

"You run and run, hopefully come April see what you have," he said. "It's all what you end up with."

As for Tenfold, a son of Tiznow, Baffert sees similarities between the sire and his offspring - a one-paced style and refusal to get beat. Baffert observed the trait watching the unbeaten Tiz Wonderful, trained by Scott Blasi, win the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last month.

"Tiznow was that that way himself, and [Tiz Wonderful] ran that way in Kentucky. . . . It looked like he was done, and he came back on."

There is a difference - Tiznow was able to avoid the Derby-trail casualty list. The year he won the Breeders' Cup Classic for the first time, Tiznow did not make his career debut until April 22, three days before the end of the Santa Anita winter meet.