06/14/2007 11:00PM

Minister's Bid getting a tightener

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Minister's Bid makes his return to Saratoga this summer, horseplayers surely will take a close look at how he fares Sunday at Churchill Downs before deciding whether the colt has progressed from last year, when he raced in both the Jim Dandy and Travers.

Minister's Bid, one of eight older horses in the ninth-race feature at Churchill, ran second to Bernardini in the Jim Dandy before finishing sixth and last in the Travers. Although he remained in training intermittently through the fall and winter, Minister's Bid did not race again until he returned to action here on Mother's Day, May 13, when he edged away to victory in a second-level allowance as a 2-5 favorite.

The colt's next start is coming in a third-level, $55,000 allowance, a one-turn mile race that anchors an 11-race Father's Day program. Trainer John T. Ward Jr. is looking for a second tightener before heading back to Saratoga. "We've been setting up all our top horses for a big Saratoga and hopefully a big fall," he said.

Minister's Bid will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, who twice has visited the Churchill winner's circle with one of their Sunday opponents, O'Connell's, a gray gelding who went 2 for 2 here last spring before ultimately being injured in a January race at Gulfstream.

"It was a mild tear in a suspensory [ligament], so we stopped on him to give him time," said trainer Eduardo Caramori, trainer of O'Connell's. Noting that O'Connell's has never raced around one turn since being imported almost a year and a half ago from Brazil to America, Caramori said Sunday's race was the only one for him in the condition book, "and we were kind of out of options. The good thing is he loves this track. We will see how he does."

Minister's Bid will start from post 4, while O'Connell's, with Shaun Bridgmohan to ride, will start alongside in post 5. The rest of the field is Chief Export, Esprit du Roi, Sky Diving, Come on Chas, Chippewa Trail, and Bully for You.

Besides the May 13 race with Minister's Bid, Ward also won an allowance race earlier at the meet with another 4-year-old colt by Deputy Minister when Extreme Supreme prevailed here May 23.

Biancone alters summer plans

Patrick Biancone initially made plans to take a large string to the Del Mar meet that runs July 18 through Sept. 5, but the veteran trainer changed his plans Thursday night.

"We talked about it at one stage, but the second stage is no, we're going to Saratoga, like usual," said Biancone.

Biancone said he still might have "a little string" of horses at the Del Mar meet, where Polytrack will be used as the primary racing surface for the first time this summer. Biancone has been an outspoken supporter of synthetic surfaces and currently has most of his large stable at Keeneland, which has had Polytrack for its main surface since last fall.

Biancone's main rider, Julien Leparoux, also had made plans to be at Del Mar but now also will be going to Saratoga, which runs July 25 to Sept. 3.

"If we need him at Del Mar, he will go there," said Biancone.

* Members of the Churchill Downs jockey colony made their annual visit Friday to the Kosair Children's Hospital in downtown Louisville. Calvin Borel, who won the Kentucky Derby on Street Sense, and Robby Albarado, who won the Preakness on Curlin, were among a dozen or so jockeys wearing silks while trying to cheer up children who are hospitalized with various illnesses, some of them terminal. This was the 12th year the Churchill jockeys have visited Kosair as a group.