And `Minister' makes three

Blue Grass winner gives Baffert another top Derby contender

April 17, 2006|By NEIL MILBERT | NEIL MILBERT,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

If there had been an Easter Parade for trainers with Kentucky Derby contenders, the guy with the mop of white hair and dark glasses would have stood out.

That guy, Bob Baffert, has three seemingly strong candidates, thanks to Sinister Minister's surprising 12 3/4 -length, front-running victory in Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

Sinister Minister went into the Grade I, $750,000 race without any graded stakes earnings to his credit but came out of it with a $465,000 paycheck, putting him on the list of the top 20 horses in graded earnings, which is the criterion for determining the contestants for the May 6 Kentucky Derby.

Two other members of Baffert's stable are scheduled to join Sinister Minister in the Churchill Downs starting gate. They are Bob and John, who earlier this month shipped across country from Southern California to win the Grade I, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and Point Determined, a son of Baffert's 2001 Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given, who stayed in California to finish second in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on the same day.

In this week's Tribune newspapers poll, Bob and John ranks fifth, Point Determined is sixth and Sinister Minister is 10th.

The new leader is Lawyer Ron, a heavily raced (14 starts) horse that looked good winning Saturday's Arkansas Derby by 2 3/4 lengths. The colt has won all seven of his races on the dirt, including his past six for trainer Bob Holthus. Earlier in his career, he was 0-for-5 on grass and 0-for-2 on the Polytrack surface.

The horse took over first from Brother Derek, the Santa Anita Derby winner and the favorite in the Kentucky Derby future book wagering.

Baffert is looking for his fourth Kentucky Derby triumph after winning with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002.

Sinister Minister has a racing style somewhat reminiscent of War Emblem, but the decisiveness of his victory came as a bit of a surprise to Baffert.

"I knew he had a chance to win," the trainer said. "We knew we were going to get the lead. He's pretty fast. That's the way he likes to run. He loves the surface [at Keeneland]; it's soft."

Churchill Downs is a much deeper racetrack, and in the past 30 years, only two Blue Grass winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Storm Treasure, a 65-1 long shot, was a closing second in the Blue Grass, while Strong Contender was third, losing for the first time in his three-race career and missing the Kentucky Derby cut because of his shortage of graded stakes earnings. Two other hitherto highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospects, First Samurai and Bluegrass Cat, were left in Sinister Minister's wake.

Neil Milbert writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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