04/04/2003 1:00AM

Derby deal with a local flavor


When trainer Bob Baffert bought another Kentucky Derby contender this spring, it turned out the story had a Las Vegas connection.

The colt Baffert acquired this March for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis is Senor Swinger, who was bred and was owned by Las Vegan Bob Ackerman. A few weeks before the Kentucky Derby last year, Baffert bought War Emblem, who went on to win it. Will lightning strike again?

The similarities between the purchase of War Emblem and Senor Swinger are striking.

The owners of War Emblem and Senor Swinger, Russell Reineman and Ackerman, respectively, have roots in Chicago, use Chicago-based trainers, and race at Chicago tracks. But Ackerman changed his legal residence in January 2001, when he and his wife moved to the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. They live near Lake Las Vegas.

Ackerman, who manages bond portfolios for investors, joins a starry list of horse owners who are Las Vegas-area residents, including Terry Lanni, Bernie Schiappa, Irwin and Andrew Molasky, and members of the Southern Nevada Racing Stable.

Ackerman operates the kind of business in which, he said, "I can turn on my computer here, there, anywhere, and run my business. My phones in Chicago forward calls out here."

His love of racing began early on in Chicago. His wife was his high school sweetheart and they used to cut class and take the train out to Arlington Park.

"We always loved horse racing but didn't get into it until 10 years ago," Ackerman said. "My dad was fighting a terminal illness. He had always loved horse racing and only lived two blocks from Arlington. A friend of mine claimed a horse for $5,000. He called and asked me to be a partner. I said sure. Then I turned around and gave half of my interest to my dad."

"That got him owners' credentials so he could go to the track anytime he wanted. He would go to the backside and give the horse carrots. We think it added a year to his life because he had something he loved to do every day he got up."

"We love the horse business, especially the breeding end," Ackerman said. "I get into the breeding aspect, what the pedigrees are. That's what I find so fascinating. We own the dam of Senor Swinger, Sunday Afternoon, who is being bred back to El Prado."

"We own two half-brothers to Senor Swinger," Ackerman continued. "We think he is a really, really nice horse who will do nicely in the future, and a very sound horse too."

Ackerman was not looking to sell, but the price, reported to be $1 million, was right. He retains some bonus provisions and some lifetime breeding rights when the colt becomes a sire.

Life has been good to Bob Ackerman, topped off by the fact he now lives in Las Vegas.

"My wife and I started coming here in 1968," he said. "We're not big gamblers, but we enjoy the people. We love the excitement. It was something we always had on the back of our minds that we would like to live here someday."

No doubt his next goal is to try to become the breeder of a Kentucky Derby winner.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up show.