Code West and Midnight Lucky work in company 4/28/2013.
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Code West and Midnight Lucky work in company 4/28/2013.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Baffert On Fence with Derby Contenders

Hall of famer works Oaks filly, will make decision on Derby contenders April 28.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sent out Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) contender Midnight Lucky and potential Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) runner Code West in company the morning of April 28 at Churchill Downs, tuning the powerful filly up and evaluating whether to run the ridgling.

A call is expected April 29 on whether Code West, currently 21st on the Derby points list after finishing sixth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), and Sunland Derby (gr. III) winner Govenor Charlie, 11th on the list to make the 20-horse field, will make the Run for the Roses. 

Govenor Charlie could be pointed for the May 18 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) instead, while Code West could contest the May 11 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park and then train for the June 8 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). 
"He worked nice today," Baffert said of Code West, who races for Gary and Mary West. "He likes this track and he's starting to do much better. Second time I took him to Louisiana he didn't run well and I was disappointed. Our options are the Derby or the Peter Pan. The Belmont has been the target for him, so I'm just going to sit down and talk to Gary West today, no rush for judgment yet."

Baffert said Mike Pegram's Govenor Charlie, who lost training time due to a foot bruise, will breeze or gallop April 29 before he makes up his mind regarding both contenders. 

"I just want to monitor him very closely, because if he doesn't run here, he'll go to the Preakness," Baffert said of Govenor Charlie. "He looked good today but there's no rush. I'm a little tight for time and I don't want to press him. Everything's got to go smooth with these Derby horses, you can't miss a beat."

With a decision from trainer Todd Pletcher also pending on whether Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III) winner Winning Cause will run in the Derby (he, too, is expected to work April 29), "bubble horses" Tiz a Minister and Golden Soul could move up. Winning Cause is number 20 on the Derby list, Tiz a Minister is 22 (and ran third April 27 in the Snow Chief Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park), and Golden Soul is 23.

"Our main focus is the Oaks with the filly, and she worked good," Baffert said.

Midnight Lucky, breaking off about four lengths behind Code West, closed the distance easily with powerful strides and finished a head in front after five furlongs in :59 3/5. Splits were :12 2/5, :24 2/5, :36 3/5, :48, and out in 1:11 4/5 and 1:25. She was ridden by exercise rider Dana Barnes.

Code West was timed in 1:00 2/5 under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, with splits of :12 3/5, :24 4/5, :37 1/5, and :48 4/5. He galloped out in 1:12 3/5 and 1:25 4/5.

"She's always worked well and we've always been very high on her," Baffert said of Midnight Lucky. "She's an exceptional filly and she went really well today. She just sat off him coming down the lane. I had Dana on her today because I had the radio on her and wanted to make sure of what we did. But she worked really well and seems to be doing well, so she's going the right way."

Midnight Lucky, a lightly-raced gray daughter of Midnight Lute , out of the Citidancer mare Citiview, won the Sunland Park Oaks by eight lengths straight off a debut victory for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman. She will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks.

"It's probably the toughest Oaks field I've seen," Baffert said. "They should just give the Eclipse Award that day. It looks really tough."

Baffert also worked 3-year-old filly Fiftyshadesofhay in company with Fed Biz  April 28; she was clocked four furlongs in :47 4/5 while her grade II-winning stablemate went the distance in :47 2/5. The daughter of Pulpit was third in the April 6 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) last time out. Baffert said he will target either Churchill's Eight Belles Presented by Xerox (gr. III) May 3, or the May 17 Black Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) at Pimlico Race Course.