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Message Is Delivered by Sinister Minister

Colt cruises to victory in the Blue Grass Stakes and earns a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

April 16, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Only three months ago, Sinister Minister was in a $62,500 claiming race at Santa Anita, and nobody claimed him.

Little more than a month ago, the speedy but erratic colt was leading a race at Golden Gate Fields when he hit the rail down the stretch -- twice -- before recovering gamely to finish second.

Now Sinister Minister is on his way to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on May 6 after a runaway victory Saturday in the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

His 12 3/4 -length margin over a field that included First Samurai, Bluegrass Cat and Strong Contender was the third largest in the history of the Blue Grass Stakes, after the 15-length victory by Arts and Letters in 1969 and the 13-length margin by Alydar in 1978.

"This horse, I just think he's waking up at the right time," said trainer Bob Baffert, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner who now has three California-based colts headed to the Derby.

Sinister Minister joins stablemates Bob And John, the winner of the Wood Memorial in New York on April 8, and Point Determined, second to Kentucky Derby favorite Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby the same day.

"It just goes to show you the depth of California," Baffert said. "There are a lot of good horses out there."

Sinister Minister was expected to take the lead in the Blue Grass, but not to hold it.

Breaking from post position No. 7 with Garrett Gomez aboard, Sinister Minister took the lead in the first quarter-mile and never let up.

There were no near-mishaps, such as those the colt had in the California Derby on March 11 at Golden Gate Fields.

"People didn't realize he hit the rail about three or four times....It was pretty wild," Baffert said. "When he went over that rail, really, something bad could have happened."

"I told Garrett, 'Coming for home, make sure you hit him left-handed. I don't want him to scrape you off against the rail.' He was telling me the jockeys were giving him a hard time, saying, 'Hey, we saw that race at Golden Gate.' "

Good things happened this time, as Sinister Minister covered the first half-mile in 45.88 seconds and completed the 1 1/8 -mile race in 1:48.85, paying $19.40, $9.20 and $5.80.

Storm Treasure, a 65-1 shot, was second. Strong Contender -- a once-touted colt that probably needed to finish first or second to have enough graded-stakes earnings to make the Derby field if more than 20 horses enter -- was third.

"I think he's going to come up a dollar short -- and that might save him," said Strong Contender's trainer, John Ward.

Bluegrass Cat was fourth and First Samurai, the morning-line favorite, ran fifth.

"I don't think he wants to go 1 1/8 miles," jockey Rafael Bejarano said of First Samurai. "I think he's better at about a mile."

Skeptics will point to Sinister Minister's victory on the "speed-biased" Keeneland track. Baffert has no complaints.

Sinister Minister, a son of Old Trieste, went unclaimed before his maiden victory Jan. 20 at Santa Anita , and Baffert quickly arranged a private purchase for a partnership made up of the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable LLC and Bernard Schiappa.

Baffert declined to disclose the price.

"Peanuts, compared to what he did today," he said.

The colt Baffert calls "a speed freak" ran sixth in the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita in February before his wild but eye-opening second behind Cause To Believe in the California Derby.

"Bob's done a nice job of bringing this horse along," said Ward, Strong Contender's trainer. "He won, and he did a nice job. He didn't run into the fence today, so it made him run a little faster."

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