01/24/2003 12:00AM

Bailey gets mount on Vindication

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Vindication, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October and the top contender for the Eclipse Award for 2-year-old males, will be ridden by Jerry Bailey when he makes his 3-year-old debut in coming weeks.

Trainer Bob Baffert on Friday said he made the decision to replace Mike Smith with Bailey. Smith was aboard Vindication in all four of his starts last year, including wins in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile and Breeders' Cup. Baffert told Smith of his decision earlier this week.

"I worked out a deal with Bailey," Baffert said. "If he takes off of him, Mike Smith gets the mount.

"It's a new season. I made the call, no one else made it. I've had a lot of luck with Bailey. We go way back and that's the way I feel about it." Bailey was booked to ride at Santa Anita on Saturday and scheduled to work Vindication on Saturday morning. It will be the first time that Bailey has been aboard Vindication.

"We'll have him here tomorrow for the workout just to get a feel for him," Baffert said. "We have to get that horse back, to get him to relax." The decision left Mike Smith's agent, Brian Beach, furious. "The last time I checked we were undefeated on the horse," he said.

Owned by Padua Stable, Vindication is expected to be named champion 2-year-old male at the Eclipse Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. A winner of $680,950, Vindication has not started since the Breeders' Cup and is not being pointed to a specific race for his comeback, Baffert said. Vindication is considered Baffert's best hope for a fourth win in the Kentucky Derby.

"No one knows how many preps he'll need," Baffert said. "Sometimes, by the time you get to the Derby, they're spent. I'm going by experience. I don't know what I'll do."

Bailey has mounts on three of Baffert's top horses. He will ride Congaree in the $300,000 San Antonio Handicap next Sunday, a prep to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap March 1. Bailey was aboard Congaree when he won the Cigar Mile last November and for an impressive victory in the San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 4.

Bailey has also gained the mount on Composure, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Hollywood Starlet. Smith rode Composure in those races and to victories in a maiden race at Del Mar and the Grade 2 Oak Leaf Stakes last October.

Composure worked seven furlongs in 1:25.20 on Friday. Owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, she is scheduled to make her seasonal debut in the Las Virgenes Stakes over a mile at Santa Anita on Feb. 9.

Pass Rush, Medaglia d'Oro head Strub

Pass Rush, the winner of the San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 11, and Medaglia d'Oro, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Classic last October, head the $400,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds next Saturday. Run over 1 1/8 miles, the Strub is also expected to include Easy Grades, Olmodavor, Rushin' to Altar, Sunday Break, and Tracemark. The Strub is a leading prep to the Santa Anita Handicap.

Saturday's program also includes the $150,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs. Kafwain, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, who was disqualified from second to fourth in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 21, heads the field. He will be challenged by Southern Image, an impressive maiden winner on Dec. 26.

In Sunday's San Antonio, Congaree is expected to be part of a small field. The other probables include Cottage, Fleetstreet Dancer, Milwaukee Brew, Pleasantly Perfect, and Sligo Bay. Pleasantly Perfect has not started since winning the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap here last October over the same track and distance. He was held out of the Breeders' Cup Classic because he bled twice in 2002 and was not in compliance with rules for bleeders in Illinois.

Fairplex wants to remain year-round facility

Fairplex Park officials on Thursday pleaded with the California Horse Racing Board for a restoration of funding that would enable the Pomona facility to remain open for training on a year-round basis.

Last year, Fairplex Park closed for three months in the spring and early summer because funding from the Stabling and Vanning Fund was cut to $1.5 million. Fairplex Park officials told the CHRB that they need $2.3 million to remain open year-round. The money that was previously allocated to Fairplex Park went to San Luis Rey Downs, a training facility that is open year-round in northern San Diego County.

Fairplex Park officials intend to meet with officials with the Thoroughbred Owners of California next week to discuss additional funding. The Stabling and Vanning Fund is derived from a portion of handle from in-state simulcast locations and is used for a variety of expenses, including the transfer of horses from training center to races and to help offset California's escalating worker's compensation costs.

At Thursday's meeting, Fairplex Park officials wore blue T-shirts that read "Save Training at Fairplex Park." Officials said there are 58 trainers, many with small operations, caring for more than 400 horses at Fairplex Park. Trainer Leonard Duncan, who is based at the major Southern California track that is racing, told the board he keeps a division of 2-year-olds at Fairplex Park.

"I use the facility to prepare my young horses," he said. "It's a vital part of my operation."

The issue is scheduled to come before the board later this spring. George Bradvica, the equine manager at Fairplex Park, said that if a resolution is not reached by April 1, then Fairplex Park will be forced to close until early August when training begins for the track's September meeting.

Lilac Queen impressive in U.S. debut

Trainer Bobby Frankel unveiled a promising mare when Lilac Queen made a successful U.S. debut with a victory in an optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, the 5-year-old Lilac Queen ($2.80) rallied from third on the final turn to win by two lengths over La Vita e Bella, finishing in 1:59.08. Owned by Gary Tanaka, Lilac Queen was second in the 2001 German Oaks and a stakes winner in Germany in May 2001. The allowance race was her first start in nearly 20 months.