05/17/2003 12:00AM

Best Minister sails in Sir Barton


BALTIMORE - Could Ken McPeek be gearing up for another Belmont Stakes shocker?

Last year, with Sarava, McPeek used the Sir Barton Stakes as a prelude to the biggest upset in Belmont Stakes history. Saturday, the McPeek-trained Best Minister may have earned a shot in the June 7 Belmont with an authoritative three-length victory in the $100,750 Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico.

Edgar Prado, who rode Sarava last year, had Best Minister in fourth position behind a hot pace contested by During and Prospect's Thunder, who went the opening half-mile in 46.68 seconds. Around the far turn, Prado launched a three-wide move aboard Best Minister, and they took the lead from During turning for home. Under mostly a vigorous hand ride from Prado, Best Minister bounded clear to beat During, the

7-5 favorite, by three lengths. It was another half-length back to Penobscot Bay in third. Sky Soldier, and Prospect's Thunder completed the order of finish.

Best Minister, owned by Phillips Racing Partnership, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.96 over a good track and returned $8.40 to win as the third choice.

"I was biding my time," Prado said. "He was getting closer and closer all by himself, and I didn't really press the pedal all the way. I was just hand riding. I tapped him a couple of times to get his attention, but I didn't really beat him up."

Since McPeek was not in attendance Saturday, it is uncertain if Best Minister would be pointed to the Belmont Stakes. But if he is, Prado would most likely not ride him, as he is scheduled to be aboard Dynever in the Belmont.