05/23/2003 12:00AM

Better distance for Minister's Baby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Working on the reasonable assumption that Minister's Baby needed her last race, trainer Ken McPeek is looking forward to seeing the mare stretch out in distance and race around two turns Sunday.

"We're bringing her back a little quicker than I'd normally want," McPeek said. "But if we're going to make the Fleur de Lis, we've got to get another race like this into her."

Minister's Baby returned from a lengthy layoff May 15, finishing a distant second behind For Rubies in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race.

Now 5, Minister's Baby long ago developed a preference for longer distances, which is exactly what she will get in the Sunday feature at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/16-mile allowance race for a $60,200 purse.

The race figures as a timely prep for the $300,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap, a Grade 2 race scheduled for the Stephen Foster undercard June 14.

Minister's Baby is owned by the Lucky Seven Stable, a partnership involving members of the Mackin family of Louisville. From 11 starts since McPeek assumed her training, Minister's Baby, by Deputy Minister, has won five races, including three stakes. Overall, she has earned over $400,000 from 23 starts.

Shane Sellers has a return call on Minister's Baby.

Probably the toughest challengers in the ninth of 10 Sunday races are two other stakes winners, Lakenheath and Happily Unbridled.

Lakenheath, based in Chicago with trainer Gene Cilio, most recently finished third in the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne. Jon Court will ride the 5-year-old mare for the first time.

Happily Unbridled, trained by Elliott Walden, will be making her first start since early February and just her second since last September. Pat Day, who going into the Friday card was second in the Churchill jockey standings behind Cornelio Velasquez, has the call.

The remainder of the field is Curious Conundrum, So Much More, and Seven Four Seven. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

* Probably the best betting race of the Sunday card is the last one, assuming it stays on the turf and holds together with a full field of 12. Starter-allowance conditions govern the 1 1/16-mile turf race, which serves as a prep for the Emerald Claiming Crown, one of seven races to be run July 19 at the fifth annual Claiming Crown series at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.

- Because racing will be conducted here Monday on the Memorial Day holiday, Churchill will be dark Wednesday.