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When in Doubt, Go With Baffert's Horse

May 17, 2003|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

Given what jockey Jose Santos had to go through last weekend -- defending himself against allegations that never deserved life -- a lot of people will be rooting for the jockey to move a step closer to the Triple Crown with a win in the Preakness today.

While another victory by Santos and Funny Cide would set up a memorable Belmont Stakes, the New York-bred gelding is hardly a cinch this afternoon.

The son of Distorted Humor has been consistent for trainer Barclay Tagg, finishing worse than second only once in his career, but his Kentucky Derby win was his first against something other than New York breds.

Funny Cide also had a perfect trip in Kentucky. Considering he is likely to go off at odds of less than 2-1 today -- he was 13-1 when he won the Derby -- it may be time to look elsewhere for the Preakness winner.

And considering recent history in the second leg of the Triple Crown, why not focus on trainer Bob Baffert?

His horses have won the Preakness two years in a row and four of the last seven and he has an improving colt this time in in Senor Swinger.

Purchased this year for a reported $1 million by Baffert for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis, the gray son of El Prado finished fifth in the Wood Memorial in his first start for his new connections.

After opting to skip the Derby, Senor Swinger was then an impressive winner in his turf debut in the American Turf, a Grade III, on May 2.

An affection for grass surfaces might have been the reason for Senor Swinger's improvement, and maybe the turf is where his future lies, but there's no doubt he has moved forward since joining the Baffert barn.

His late-running style should fare well in a race expected to have a legitimate pace, and he has the right rider in Pat Day. The Hall of Fame jockey has won the Preakness five times, including three in a row from 1994-96.

Peace Rules also has to be considered. He ran very well in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Jules was beaten by only two lengths after being part of the pace throughout, so the shorter distance of the Preakness -- 1 3/16 miles compared to 1 1/4 -- also works in his favor.

However, he also is returning just two weeks after that strenuous effort and he has always had at least three weeks between races. A wet track -- the surface was sloppy Friday -- is also a probability and the worst race of his career came on an off track Aug. 24 at Saratoga.

Cherokee's Boy, Foufa's Warrior and New York Hero are all Maryland breds, so they can be thrown out with a high degree of certainty. A horse from the host state hasn't won a Preakness since Deputed Testamony in 1983.

Trainer Wayne Lukas has won the Preakness five times. He won't be adding a sixth with either Scrimshaw or Ten Cents A Shine. Midway Road has never won a stakes, leaving Kissin Saint, a viable longshot who is fresh -- he hasn't run since finishing third in the Wood Memorial on April 12 -- and should relish more distance. Claimed for $50,000 by trainer Lisa Lewis for owners Peter Karches and Michael Rankowitz on Jan. 12, he has run well on wet tracks and is definitely worthy of consideration.

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