05/08/2002 12:00AM

Baffert on Derby wins: 'It takes a lot of luck'


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen shared a laugh as training wound down Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs. Asmussen theorized - not without considerable amazement - how differently things might have been in the Kentucky Derby if One Tuff Fox had been permitted to run in the April 6 Illinois Derby.

"If the groom for One Tuff Fox doesn't take a shower, then he hooks War Emblem early and everything turns out different," Asmussen told Baffert. "War Emblem doesn't win the Illinois Derby. You don't want to buy him. He doesn't run here. Everything is different."

One Tuff Fox, a speedy colt who was expected to challenge War Emblem for the lead in the Illinois Derby, was scratched from that race by the stewards because, contrary to state rules, the horse was left alone for 18 minutes while his groom took a shower. War Emblem, left alone on the lead, easily won the race.

"A shower changed the Derby," Asmussen said with a huge grin.

Baffert quickly admitted that fate and luck play huge roles in winning the Derby.

"The harder I tried, the worse I did," said Baffert. "Three weeks before the race, I had nothing. I'm not even beating the bushes. This [opportunity to buy War Emblem] just pops up in my lap.

"I'm telling you, you have to be lucky to win the Derby," Baffert added. "You have to show up that day with a horse doing the best, but believe me, you also have to have a lot of luck."

Dan out of Lone Star Derby

Danthebluegrassman came out of his Tuesday workout "with still a little something wrong back there," Baffert said, and therefore the colt was not on the plane with several other Churchill shippers headed to Lone Star Park this weekend.

Danthebluegrassman was scratched from the Kentucky Derby on the morning of the race after suffering from muscle cramps in his hind end after a scheduled jog. Baffert said the colt is still suffering from something related to the cramps.

"The way he looked to me, we won't be looking for another race for him for awhile," he said.

Baffert vs. Asmussen in Winn

Churchill officials are expecting about seven starters for the lone stakes to be run here this weekend, the $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes on Saturday.

Baffert, with Saturday Hero, and Asmussen, with Richest Half, are among the trainers who will be represented by 3-year-olds in the inaugural running of the six-furlong Matt Winn. The other probables are Cojet, Day Trader, Laffit, Major Focus, and Still Be Smokin'.

The Matt Winn, named for the man who brought the Kentucky Derby to world-wide prominence in the early 20th century, displaces the Edgewood Stakes on the spring stakes schedule. The Edgewood was moved onto the Derby eve undercard.

Training hours altered

The constant beeps and bangs of heavy construction machinery were evident after training ended Wednesday at Churchill. Phase 1 of the track's massive renovation got underway Monday.

The renovation has led Churchill to slightly alter training hours, to maximize the amount of time that work can be performed during daylight hours. Training is now conducted from 5:15 to 9:15 a.m. Both the open and close is 45 minutes earlier than normal.

On dark days (Mondays and Tuesdays), renovation can be done until dark. On other weekdays during the meet, however, the window will be only from about 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., said track spokesman John Asher.

Romero benefits raise $80,000

Two more benefits for ailing ex-jockey Randy Romero raised another $80,000 or so during Derby weekend.

A concert and auction at a downtown country-music nightclub on May 2 raised over $50,000, said Romero. "So many of the jockeys were there," said Romero, naming Chris McCarron, Alex Solis, Kent Desormeaux, and others.

On Derby night, agent Ron Ebanks held a party at which some $28,000 was raised, Ebanks said. "Stormy Bidwill and Mike Pegram were huge contributors," Ebanks said.

Romero, who is suffering from kidney and liver disease, said Wednesday that he is scheduled to undergo chemotherapy treatments next week for his liver.

Request for Parole: No Preakness

Request for Parole, the fifth-place finisher in the Derby, has several options for his next start, said trainer Steve Margolis.

"Not the Preakness," said Margolis, naming the June 8 Jefferson Cup or June 15 Northern Dancer, both at Churchill, as possible next starts.

Unlike most Derby starters, Request for Parole did not resume training Wednesday. "We gave him one extra day off," said Margolis.

Maine carpenter nails Derby bet

Talk about winning a lumberyard by betting a toothpick.

Jonathan Roberts, a 32-year-old carpenter from Topsham, Me., strolled into his local offtrack betting parlor Saturday to bet a mere $30 on the Kentucky Derby. His gross winnings: $203,320.40.

Roberts cashed a $2 superfecta, $2 trifecta, $2 exacta, and $2 across the board on War Emblem and Proud Citizen.

Scott Reese, manager of the Winner's OTB in Brunswick, Me., where Roberts made the bet, said Roberts is a "casual player, maybe four or five times a month. The great thing is, he's such a nice guy. We're all pretty excited for him."

Neon Shadow taking it slow

Neon Shadow, a sharp winner of a classified allowance on the Derby Day undercard, probably will not take a major class jump in his next start, said Carl Bowman, trainer of the 8-year-old gelding.

"The [May 18] Hawthorne Gold Cup comes back a little quick, and the [June 15] Stephen Foster is going to be too tough," said Bowman. "We'll have to pick and choose, I guess."