Updated on 09/17/2011 10:12AM

Is it a full house or busted hand?

Bob Baffert has plenty of 3-year-olds, but whether any of his horses is capable of winning this year's Kentucky Derby remains questionable.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Woe is he. In the two months since Domestic Dispute won the Santa Catalina Stakes, trainer Bob Baffert has had a rough go.

Domestic Dispute lost as the favorite in the San Felipe Stakes. Kafwain was second in the Louisiana Derby, and was later disqualified for having too much Clenbuterol in his system. Baffert had to send Vindication, his champion 2-year-old colt, to the farm with a suspensory injury, knocking him off the Kentucky Derby trail. And then last weekend, neither Apalachian Thunder nor Spensive could win the WinStar Derby.

"I couldn't even win a derby at Sunland Park," Baffert said.

As usual at this time of year, Baffert has plenty of 3-year-olds. Whether he has the right one is another question, one that was amplified last week when Baffert flew to Chicago and engineered the private purchase of Senor Swinger - a move that mirrored the purchase last year of War Emblem. The conventional wisdom is that if Baffert were satisfied with his Derby lot, he would not be trying to buy yet another horse.

Baffert said he believes that having enough horses for the Derby means having plenty of runners with which to start. He still has strength in numbers. Domestic Dispute, Kafwain, and Indian Express all will run in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. They, however, must prove that they can either handle the race's 1 1/8 miles, or - in the case of Indian Express - the field's quality. During and Senor Swinger are headed to the April 12 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, but they are still unproven beyond the first-level allowance condition.

Baffert's emotions have see-sawed all year. In recent weeks at Santa Anita, he on more than one occasion has muttered, "I've got nothing."

"It's like last year. I'm down to nothing," he said the day after the San Felipe. The other morning at Santa Anita, Baffert said, "I didn't have anything last year, either," then moments later reflected on having won the Derby three times in just six years.

"I've been pretty lucky. I can't complain," he said. "I've spoiled myself."

A year ago at this time, Baffert's best prospect for the Kentucky Derby was Danthebluegrassman, who finished last in the Santa Anita Derby. But Baffert reached out and found a "for sale" sign hanging from War Emblem, and weeks later won his third Kentucky Derby. He is in better shape this year, but whether he has the right horse for the Derby's 1 1/4 miles is a question even he concedes is valid.

"Until they run a mile and an eighth" - the distance of the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood - "you don't know," Baffert said. "A mile and a sixteenth keeps them all close. We'll know more in the next two weeks."

Then, he said, jokingly, "If the Derby was a mile, I'd be doing good."

Baffert entered the new year with two of the most accomplished 2-year-olds of 2002 in his barn: Vindication and Kafwain, who ran one-two in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington Park.

Vindication was the star. He was by Seattle Slew, cost $2.15 million as a yearling, and won all four of his starts last year. He won the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old colt.

But things began to unravel for Vindication in mid-January. First, Baffert fired Mike Smith, the jockey who rode Vindication to all four of his victories last year. Then Vindication appeared to tail off in his training. Finally, Baffert admitted what had seemed apparent, that Vindication was not right and needed time off.

For Baffert, Vindication's absence has grown more pronounced as the year has progressed.

"He was the horse," Baffert said. "He was in another class, a class of his own."

Vindication had speed and it appeared as though distance would not be a hurdle. Of the colts Baffert has left, the fastest and most accomplished is Kafwain. But the one who might best handle a long distance is Senor Swinger. They bring some elements of a Derby winner to the table, but perhaps not all.

Kafwain is not as brilliant as Vindication, but he is a reliable, consistent colt. Since last August, he has crossed the wire first or second in seven consecutive races. He also is rugged, having started 10 times already. Kafwain is a tall, imposing colt, bigger than any horse on the Derby trail this year. But his pedigree could betray him. He is by Cherokee Run, a champion sprinter, and is out of a mare by Moment of Hope, who, like Cherokee Run, is not known for siring long-distance runners.

"He's got a lot of heart and guts," Baffert said in admiration.

Senor Swinger has won twice in three starts, but was well beaten in the Florida Derby in his only start in a stakes race. Comparisons to War Emblem are inevitable, in that both were purchased after already having raced for another owner and trainer, but are premature, too, in that War Emblem had won the Illinois Derby when Baffert acquired him for The Thoroughbred Corporation.

"I think he's going to get better as he goes through the year," Baffert said. "Distance is not going to be a problem. Of all my 3-year-olds, he probably wants to go the farthest. But he's behind the eight ball right now."

Baffert has made some trick shots before. He's got his pool cue. And he's got a few shots left to take. Rack 'em.