01/31/2003 1:00AM

Vindication to take it slow


ARCADIA, Calif. - Vindication, the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, will have his next workout delayed after the colt put in a blazing move on Jan. 25, trainer Bob Baffert said Friday at Santa Anita.

Vindication worked a bullet five furlongs in 58.40 seconds, his fifth workout since he resumed serious training in late December. "He breezed so fast the other day, I might give him nine or 10 days," Baffert said. "He's done that before; we've given him a lot of time between works."

Since winning his debut last July 27, Vindication has never gone more than seven days between workouts.

Baffert also changed the daily gallop schedule for Vindication, who typically trains after the 9 a.m. track renovation. Baffert said Vindication galloped at 6:30 a.m. Friday because of the unseasonably warm weather. The high temperature here Friday was 85 degrees.

Baffert said Vindication's gallop schedule changed because "it's getting too hot out here. The track is better [early], and I had a bunch of workers. He's been out early before."

Baffert said the colt had no problems. "What's the deal?" Baffert snapped. "Who cares? I change around a lot. I gave Kafwain nine days [between works, from Jan. 17 to Jan. 27] and nobody said anything about him. Nobody even talks about him."

Kafwain, of course, is not the champion 2-year-old colt of 2002, and Baffert is already starting to feel the heat surrounding Vindication, a Seattle Slew colt owned by Padua Stables.

"You know how many horses I have to worry about?" he said. "You guys [reporters] can worry about that. I hate talking about Vindication. I don't want to go to the Derby with high expectations like Point Given."

Point Given finished fifth in the 2001 Kentucky Derby after being sent off as the 9-5 favorite. None of Baffert's three Derby winners - Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, or War Emblem in 2002 - was favored.

How Baffert gets to the 2003 Derby with his three leading colts remains undetermined. He said Domestic Dispute, the Santa Catalina winner, and Vindication would run only two more times before the Derby. "Domestic is a light horse," he said. "Vindication is a light horse, and he gets wound up. I don't want to wind him up too early. I can train one up to a race. I don't have to run him into shape. Believe me, I know what I'm doing."

Kafwain, who was to have run in the seven-furlong San Vicente on Saturday, is a "big, heavy horse built totally different" than Domestic Dispute and Vindication. Baffert said it is too early in the season to consider the Derby. "These 3-year-olds, I just don't get into it until March. You just have to take care of them right now."

Team Valor acquires Omega Code

A 75 percent interest in Omega Code, the winner of the San Miguel Stakes on Jan. 12, has been sold privately to the Team Valor partnership and Margaux Farm for $1.1 million, according to Team Valor president Barry Irwin.

The transaction was announced Friday, a day after Omega Code underwent a veterinary examination. Trainer Wesley Ward will retain a 25 percent interest in the 3-year-old Omega Code, while his former partners Dan Butler and Mike Moore have sold their holdings, Irwin said.

According to Irwin, Team Valor will manage Omega Code's racing career, while Margaux Farm in Midway, Ky., will stand the colt at the end of his career. Irwin said Omega Code, who is by top young stallion Elusive Quality, is in the process of being syndicated.

Purchased for $350,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of 2-year-olds in training, Omega Code has won two stakes in his career - the Grade 3 San Miguel Stakes and the Cloud Memorial at the Big Fresno Fair last October. In between those starts, he finished third in the Gilded Time Stakes at Arlington Park in October, the day before the Breeders' Cup.

Omega Code is scheduled to work on Sunday. Irwin said he will be pointed for the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes over a mile on March 1. Mike Smith will be offered the mount, replacing Martin Pedroza, Irwin said.

Stevens sets date for return

Jockey Gary Stevens, who has not ridden since late October because of commitments to the upcoming movie based on the popular Seabiscuit book, worked Chief Planner for Baffert on Friday.

Stevens is planning a comeback on Feb. 14. He says he has minimal obligations remaining on the film, which allows him to resume exercising horses. Stevens is playing the role of jockey George Woolf.

"I'm fit," he said. "I just want to get my timing back."

Chief Planner has not started since he finished third in the Del Mar Futurity last September. Trained by Baffert for Golden Eagle Farm, Chief Planner was also second in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar and third in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship.

Got Koko tries for series sweep

Got Koko, the winner of the La Brea and El Encino stakes at this meeting, will try to become the third filly to sweep the La Canada series when she starts in next Saturday's $200,000 La Canada Stakes.

Run over 1 1/8 miles, the La Canada will be the longest race of Got Koko's career. She won the seven-furlong La Brea Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths and the El Encino Stakes over 1 1/16 miles by 1 1/2 lengths.

The La Canada had only eight nominations, though supplemental entries are allowed at entry time for $4,000. The field is expected to include Bare Necessities, who was third in the El Encino, and Revenante, who has been racing on turf.

The first stakes of the week is Friday's $75,000 Sham Stakes, a restricted race over 1 1/8 miles for 3-year-olds. Empire Maker, who was third in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in November, will face Man Among Men and Ten Most Wanted.

Next Sunday's $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over a mile is led Elloluv and Composure, the first two finishers in the Hollywood Starlet Stakes in December.

* General Challenge, the winner of the 1999 Santa Anita Derby and Pacific Classic, breezed three furlongs in 35.20 seconds on Friday. A 7-year-old trained by Baffert, General Challenge has not started in 2 1/2 years because of injury.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen