04/16/2004 11:00PM

Friends Lake works, Kimmel raves

Wimbledon (left), Dana Barnes riding, works in tandem with stablemate Preachinatthebar, Sal Gonzalez Jr. up, at Churchill Downs on Saturday. Trainer Bob Baffert liked what he saw.

Friends Lake's Kentucky Derby stock rose dramatically in the eyes of handicappers last weekend after two of his Florida Derby victims, Tapit and The Cliff's Edge, won the Wood Memorial and Blue Grass Stakes, respectively. On Saturday morning Friends Lake's stock went up even higher in the mind of trainer John Kimmel after Friends Lake worked five furlongs in 1:03.06 at Payson Park.

"That was perfect," said Kimmel. "This work was pretty much a ditto of his final breeze before the Florida Derby."

Friends Lake rallied to a three-quarter-length victory over Value Plus in the Grade 1 Florida Derby with The Cliff's Edge a similar margin back in third and Tapit a well-beaten sixth.

Working shortly after sunrise, with his regular exercise rider Amanda Roxborough in the irons, Friends Lake went in splits of 24.93, 37.06, and 49.15 seconds before galloping out six furlongs in 1:17.06 over the cuppy Payson Park surface.

"The track seemed a little deeper than usual this morning," said Kimmel. "He was just cruising along out there. Amanda had to ask him to slow down, but he grabbed her again at the three-quarter pole. What I liked best was that he walked back home like he hadn't done a thing. He got a nice easy blow but was composed enough to graze on the way back to the barn."

Kimmel decided to take the unorthodox route of training Friends Lake up to the Kentucky Derby after the Florida Derby - the same tactic trainer Rick Violette has chosen for fellow New York-bred Read the Footnotes, who finished fourth, four lengths behind Friends Lake, as the odds-on favorite in the Florida Derby.

"It amazes me the way this horse stays fit," said Kimmel. "He has both natural talent and stamina. After he gets his second wind he goes in and just gives you another gear. I can't say without a shadow of a doubt, but I don't think a mile and one-quarter will be a problem for this horse."

Kimmel plans to van Friends Lake to Kentucky on Tuesday. He'll gallop Thursday and Friday at Churchill Downs before having his final Derby workout on Saturday morning. Regular jockey Richard Migliore will be aboard Friends Lake in the Derby.

Wimbledon, Preachinatthebar work in company

Bob Baffert's duo of Preachinatthebar and Wimbledon worked five furlongs with one another at Churchill Downs on Saturday, with Wimbledon recording the day's best time among 59 horses at that distance, a clocking of 58.40 seconds. Preachinatthebar was timed in 59.40 seconds. Dana Barnes was aboard Wimbledon, with Sal Gonzalez Jr. on Preachinatthebar.

"I feel a lot better about them after this morning," Baffert said. "Usually I can tell if they have a chance by the way they work over this track. But they've got to stay like that and continue on, and we've got to have a lot of good luck with them. We've still got a few days to go."

Baffert said Wimbledon "was really reaching."

"He really liked the surface. You could tell he took a liking to it, and that's the whole thing - the key to this race. I really don't know how they're going to handle it until I work them over this track."

Baffert said Preachinatthebar's next work "will be much better." Baffert said he told Gonzalez to "just sort of cruise and don't worry about the other horse."

Wimbledon and Preachinatthebar are both coming off disappointing races after key victories. Wimbledon was fifth in the Santa Anita Derby after capturing the Louisiana Derby. Preachinatthebar was seventh in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes after taking the San Felipe Stakes.

Javier Santiago rode both Baffert colts in their last starts, but he is being replaced on both. Baffert has yet to name a rider for either colt, though Jerry Bailey is considered the front-runner to ride Wimbledon should Bailey's first choice, Eddington, not make the Derby field. As of Saturday, Eddington had insufficient earnings to make the starting field of 20.

Day to ride Minister Eric

As expected, Pat Day has picked up the mount on the Richard Mandella-trained Minister Eric. The mount became available when Alex Solis chose to ride Master David.

"I think he might be coming up to a good race at the right time," said Day's agent, Doc Danner, who also said that Day would ride Victory

U. S. A. for Baffert in the April 30 Kentucky Oaks. Bailey, who rode Victory U. S. A. to victory in the Stonerside Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland, is riding Madcap Escapade in the Oaks.

Sinister G to wear blinkers in Derby

Sinister G will wear blinkers for the first time in a race when he runs in the Derby, his trainer, John Toscano Jr., said. Sinister G will also wear a figure-eight bridle and a tongue-tie in the Derby because Toscano believes Sinister G entrapped his epiglottis when he finished 10th in the Wood Memorial.

Sinister G had trained in blinkers since before he upset the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March 20, but has not worn them in a race. In the Wood, Sinister G was jumping tracks and footprints, compromising his chance to make a clear early lead.

"We're going to try to get him to focus more," Toscano said. "He," Toscano said, pointing to exercise rider Luis Chiari, "thinks he focuses more with the blinkers on than without them."

Toscano had resisted putting blinkers on previously because Sinister G ran well in an allowance race and the Lane's End while working in blinkers and running without them.

Toscano said Sinister G would most likely work next weekend at Belmont Park, and would ship to Louisville on April 28.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Jay Privman