09/02/2006 12:00AM

Baffert has two kinds of speed


DEL MAR, Calif. - There's speed, and then there's flat-out, run-off speed. It's the kind of speed used to run his rivals off their feet this spring in the Blue Grass Stakes, and which again should be on display Monday at Del Mar, when he makes his comeback in the $85,000 Windy Sands Handicap.

Sinister Minister is one of several 3-year-olds whom trainer Bob Baffert juggled in stakes spots this weekend. Sinister Minister was kept out of the El Cajon Stakes on Saturday, which is exclusively for 3-year-olds, and will instead face elders for the first time in the Windy Sands. Included in that group is Preachinatthebar, a Baffert trainee who set the early pace in the Pacific Classic last time out.

On paper, it may look as though Baffert has two horses with similar styles who will knock out one another, but Sinister Minister is simply faster earlier.

"When it comes to speed, he has ridiculous speed, unharnessed speed," Baffert said at his barn Saturday morning. "We've worked with him, trying to get him to rate, but he's unrateable. I don't think Dick Butkus could rate him."

Sinister Minister has not raced since the Kentucky Derby, when he faded to finish 16th. He was battling a foot bruise heading into the race, and subsequently needed time off to deal with it.

"He's doing well now," Baffert said.

Preachinatthebar faded to finish last of eight in the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic, which was run just two weeks ago.

"Preach, he can stalk," Baffert said.

In addition to Baffert's runners, there are four others in the one-mile race, which goes as the third on the card.

Southern Africa was third in the Longacres Mile in his last start. Argentine import Romeo Plus, whose lone win in this country was on turf, will be making his first start since April. Skipaslew was fifth in the Wickerr Handicap on the turf on July 29. Keep on Punching , winless for more than a year, has not run since finishing fourth of five in an optional claiming race at Hollywood Park.

I'm Smokin: Spot the Diplomat leads the way

, who captured the Graduation Stakes on July 26, seeks to add another California-bred stakes race to his resume in the $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes, the day's first race.

Spot the Diplomat was a one-length winner of the Graduation, which was at 5 1/2 furlongs. He need only negotiate an extra 110 yards in the six-furlong I'm Smokin.

Only four other 2-year-olds are entered in the I'm Smokin, including recent maiden winner Street Lights, who, like Spot the Diplomat, is owned by John Harris and trained by Carla Gaines. Those two will be coupled in the wagering, so there are four betting interests to start the day.

Spot the Diplomat and Street Lights would be the first two choices in the race if they were uncoupled. Together, they will be a prohibitive favorite.

Zoning In was fourth and Hot Rod fifth in the Graduation. Seliman was third in a starter allowance race after rallying to beat maiden claimers earlier in the meet.