Trainer Bob Baffert has shifted gears with his two top unbeaten 2-year-olds, Officer and Habibti, deciding to keep them in California for their final preps prior to the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park instead of sending them to New York for a pair of grade I races in early October.
Breeders' Cup Bessemer Juvenile (gr. I) favorite Officer had been expected to contest the Oct. 6 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont but instead will race in the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) on Sept. 29 during the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita. The Norfolk is a one-mile event run around two turns, while the Champagne is contested at 1 1/16 miles around one turn -- the same as the Juvenile. The son of Bertrando, most recently victorious in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. II) and four-for-four overall, worked five furlongs in :59 3/5 on Wednesday.
Habibti, like Officer owned by Saudi Arabian Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp., had been expected to accompany his stablemate to New York and contest Belmont's Frizette Stakes (gr. I) on the same afternoon as the Champagne. The Frizette is New York's final prep for the Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). Instead, the daughter of Tabasco Cat will go in the Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) on Sept. 30 at Santa Anita. The Oak Leaf is run around two turns at a mile, while the Frizette is run at the same 1 1/16 miles as the Champagne. Habibti, two-for-two, including a win in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I), also worked for Baffert Wednesday, going seven furlongs in 1:25 3/5.
Baffert said he preferred the California races because of their timing, which gives his juveniles a four-week gap before the World Thoroughbred Championships, instead of the three weeks between Belmont's preps and the big event.