01/28/2003 12:00AM

Vindication: $2M bargain

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It was in September, when Vindication easily won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile even after a poor start, that Satish Sanan really started to believe. After that Turfway Park race, Sanan, unable to contain his joy, gave trainer Bob Baffert a big bear hug in the winner's circle.

"This is the horse we've been looking for," said Sanan, who had paid $2.15 million at Saratoga for Vindication a little more than a year earlier.

Indeed, even with only one start after the Kentucky Cup, Vindication accomplished enough to become a champion in his class and the consensus early favorite for the 2003 Kentucky Derby. A nearly black colt by the late Seattle Slew, Vindication went on to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, giving him a 4-for-4 record that Eclipse voters believed was more than enough to justify the award for top 2-year-old of 2002.

Vindication, bred in Kentucky by Virginia Kraft Payson, began his career with a 5 1/2-length win in a July 27 maiden sprint at Del Mar. Nearly four weeks later, he returned as the 1-10 favorite in an entry-level allowance at Del Mar, and was ridden out to win by 1 1/2 lengths. It was soon thereafter that Baffert, acknowledging that he was taking a conservative route, chose to send Vindication to Turfway, instead of to more demanding races in California or New York.

Vindication did not disappoint. Despite breaking several lengths behind the field in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Cup, he made a flashy bid on the far turn and pulled away to a six-length victory. He was nearly as dominant when facing the cream of the 2-year-old crop in the BC Juvenile on Oct. 26 at Arlington, forcing the pace before pulling away to win by 2 3/4 lengths over another Baffert-trained colt, Kafwain.

Vindication is the fifth horse to win an Eclipse for Baffert but the first for Padua Stables, which Sanan owns with his wife, Anne. Satish Sanan, 55, is a native of India who made a fortune in the computer business. He spoke in glowing terms, and at great length, at the Eclipse ceremonies Monday night about his involvement in racing, which began in earnest in 1997. Padua Stables, which has expanded into a commercial breeding operation in Ocala, Fla., has been one of the biggest spenders in recent years at Thoroughbred sales auctions.

Baffert's previous Eclipse winners were Silver Charm, Silverbulletday, Chilukki, and Point Given.

Although Mike Smith rode Vindication in all four of his races, Baffert recently named Jerry Bailey as the colt's rider. After a brief rest following the Breeders' Cup, Vindication has resumed serious training in California.