04/14/2003 11:00PM

Lexington for Domestic Dispute

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bob Baffert must be in a forgiving mood these days. After watching Domestic Dispute throw in back-to-back clunkers, Baffert is giving the once-highly regarded colt a final chance on the Kentucky Derby trail by running him Saturday in the $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

Baffert originally had penciled in the April 26 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs for Domestic Dispute but said Tuesday that he was switching the colt to the Lexington primarily because Midas Eyes will now run in the Trial. Midas Eyes, the highly impressive winner of the March 15 Swale Stakes, was declared from the Lexington by trainer Bobby Frankel after the colt missed a crucial workout at Hollywood Park before being flown to Louisville on Tuesday.

Baffert was noncommittal Tuesday at Santa Anita about whether a big effort in the Grade 2 Lexington would be enough to get Domestic Dispute back in the Derby picture. Domestic Dispute, owned by Gary Garber, won the Santa Catalina in January but then finished fifth in both the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.

"I'm just taking a shot," said Baffert. "It's a Hail Mary kind of deal."

Baffert was trying to secure Jerry Bailey to ride Domestic Dispute, but both Baffert and Bailey's agent, Ron Anderson, declined Tuesday to confirm that anything had been agreed upon. At least two other trainers also had been seeking Bailey to ride their horses in the Lexington after it was revealed Monday that Midas Eyes, who would have been Bailey's Lexington mount, was out.

As of Tuesday afternoon, this was the prospective field of 11 3-year-olds for the Lexington, with tentative jockey assignments:

Champali, Pat Day; Domestic Dispute, Bailey; Eye of the Tiger, Robby Albarado; Home of Stars, no rider; Ministers Wild Cat, Victor Espinoza; Most Feared, Mark Guidry; Ocean Terrace, Shane Sellers; Scrimshaw, Mike Smith; Showdown, no rider; Touch the Wire, Corey Nakatani; and Trust N Luck, Cornelio Velasquez.

The Lexington, along with the Tesio Stakes from Pimlico, will be televised Saturday on ESPN2 on a half-hour delay starting at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Meanwhile, over a fast track at Churchill, Champali posted a five-furlong breeze in 59.80 seconds early Tuesday. Tammy Fox was aboard for trainer Greg Foley.

Rob Lloyd, who manages Lloyd Madison Farms, the Wisconsin-based syndicate that owns Champali, said the Derby is not a serious consideration.

"He'd have to run super in the Lexington, and then the planets would really have to line up the right way for us to even think about it," said Lloyd.

Also Tuesday, Eye of the Tiger, a recent arrival from northern California for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, breezed a half-mile over a fast Keeneland main track in 48.80 seconds with Albarado up.

Amoss: 'Never say never'

Like Lloyd and perhaps a few more owners and trainers, Buddy New and Tom Amoss are looking at the Kentucky Derby from the far outer fringes. After Lone Star Sky was fourth by nearly 13 lengths in the April 5 Illinois Derby, New and Amoss categorically ruled out running back in the Kentucky Derby.

"You can never say never, although we absolutely do not intend to run," said Amoss. "The only thing is, what if the race falls apart? You never want anything bad to happen to somebody else's horse, but come on. We've got the earnings to get in, and the horse came out of the Illinois Derby in good shape, so there's really no use to us saying, 'Under no circumstances.' "

Tuesday morning, Lone Star Sky had his first work since the Illinois Derby when breezing a half-mile in 49.40 seconds.

Walden glowing over Ipi Tombe

While Derby activity swirls around her, Ipi Tombe is laying low in the Elliott Walden barn at Churchill, quietly going about her business since having arrived here about a week ago.

"We've just been jogging her real easy every day," said David Fortner, Walden's longtime assistant. "Boy, is she classy. She just floats over the ground. One thing I noticed about her right away was when she walks, her back foot lands maybe five or six inches ahead of where she just stepped with her front foot. That's amazing."

Ipi Tombe, a 5-year-old mare bred in Zimbabwe, is a true international superstar, having been imported to the United States after winning the $2 million Dubai Duty Free on March 29. Walden has said the Aug. 15 Arlington Million could be the primary summer goal.

* A pair of accomplished 4-year-olds were out for serious work Tuesday morning at Churchill: Proud Citizen, the 2002 Derby runner-up who has not raced since the Preakness last year, went five furlongs in 59.60 seconds, and Mineshaft, winner of the New Orleans Handicap in his last start, tuned up for the April 25 Ben Ali Stakes, going six furlongs in 1:11.40.

- additional reporting by Brad Free