03/08/2007 1:00AM

Vaunt returning to grass


ARCADIA, Calif. - Last month, when Vaunt started in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, trainer Dan Hendricks was not thinking too seriously about keeping the gelding on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Hendricks just needed to get Vaunt out of his stall and into a race.

The idea was to prepare Vaunt for Saturday's $100,000 Baldwin Stakes on the hillside turf course, a race that Hendricks has targeted for several months.

Vaunt finished fourth in the seven-furlong San Vicente, his first start on dirt. Hendricks has shrugged off the loss and looked forward to Saturday's Grade 3 race.

"I think we got done what we needed to get done, getting a race in him," Hendricks said. "He's a big, heavyset horse that needs to get going. We ran him there to get him ready for this race. Hopefully, the plan will work."

Vaunt returns to his favorite surface in the Baldwin, which is run over about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf.

Owned by Angela Gates and Frank Scardino, Vaunt had two wins during a seven-race campaign in England last year. The wins came over five furlongs on turf at Bath in September and October, before Vaunt joined Hendricks's stable.

In his first start in this country, Vaunt finished fourth in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes over a mile on turf at Hollywood Park last November. "It was right off the plane, and he got in a little trouble," Hendricks said.

Vaunt is a stalker, and Hendricks is hoping that a quick pace will aid the gelding's late kick.

"I think he'll be five lengths back and sitting and waiting," Hendricks said. "He's got a nice move."

Trainer David Hofmans is hoping that Desert Code utilizes the same strategy. Owned by Tarabilla Farms, Desert Code won his turf debut by two lengths in an allowance race on the hillside turf course on Feb. 18.

"The race is a logical progression," Hofmans said. "His style is very tactical."

There should be ample pace with the presence of Bitter Bill, Desert Code, and Newsworthy

Newsworthy was third to Desert Code on Feb. 18, while Bitter Bill won an optional claimer on Jan. 12.

Spanish Influence won a maiden race on the hillside turf course on Jan. 6, leading throughout. He finished last of five in the San Vicente, and trainer Marcelo Polanco said he did not handle the surface.

"At the three-eighths pole, he wasn't getting any traction," he said. "The jockey decided to pull him up."

Spanish Influence worked three furlongs in 35.40 seconds on turf on Wednesday.