04/28/2003 12:00AM

No second-guessing this time


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Don't bother breaking out the Russell Reineman net for Gary Garber. No crying towels will be required. If Domestic Dispute comes through with the race of his life to win the 129th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, less than one week after being sold to Chuck Winner and David Bienstock, that will be Garber standing nearby, smiling a smile of no regrets.

At least, that is what he said on Monday.

One year ago, Bob Baffert and Prince Ahmed Salman made Derby history after purchasing War Emblem from Reineman less than a month before the race. Reineman hedged his bet by retaining 10 percent, and then the game was treated to the subsequent squabble over the distribution of the million-dollar bonus War Emblem earned for winning the Illinois and Kentucky derbies.

There will be no such backstage drama this year. Garber sold his colt outright. There are no incentive clauses that could up the price down the line, and no bonus issues bridging the old and new ownerships. The only common denominator is Baffert, who may experience a twinge if Domestic Dispute is anywhere near the front at the eighth pole on Saturday.

"If the colt wins, one of Bob's friends told him they would string him up and use him for a pi?ata," Garber said with a laugh.

Garber bred Domestic Dispute and raced him through 10 eventful starts, which included a victory in the Santa Catalina Stakes last January. The effort drew raves far and wide and caught the eye of Winner and Bienstock, business associates and racing partners who try not to kid themselves if they can help it.

They knew up front that Garber had no Derby plans for the colt.

They dismiss the notion that Domestic Dispute could have been bought for half price a week later, once Derby fever had abated.

And they're ready when someone asks if this is nothing more than an expensive ego trip to play in racing's most famous sandbox.

"If this was an ego trip, we would have 80 people coming to the Derby," said Bienstock. "It's just Chuck and me, and our wives."

Bienstock, a newlywed of just two months, gets high marks just for buying a horse named Domestic Dispute. Never mind that he and his partner paid seven figures, although neither side wanted to disclose the precise amount.

"I'm not a billionaire," said Garber, who was answering phones at his Los Angeles office Monday morning. "To me, it was a lot of money, and I'm very happy with the sale. I will be even happier when the money is wired into my account later today."

Winner is a political consultant whose company deals in crisis management for initiative ballot campaigns. Bienstock's Target Enterprises buys media time for candidates and political races.

"Because of Chuck's last name, our silks have 'Winner' on the back," Bienstock said. "Perhaps that's an omen - not that the other guys have 'Loser.' But 'Bienstock' on the silks isn't going to help the horse a lot."

Winner came to his partner's defense.

"Probably 'Winner' on the back doesn't help a lot either," Winner said.

Bienstock is represented on the team colors, however. Look for the beehive, which translates "der bienenstock" in German.

"It's not a matter of exposing the horse in the Derby just so Chuck and I could say we had a horse in the Derby," Bienstock said. "If the timing wasn't right, we wouldn't have done it. And I don't think we could have waited even two weeks and still got the horse at half the price."

"Our opinion is that we did not overpay for him based on the Derby," Winner noted. "The question for us was, how much is he worth, Derby or no Derby?"

"This horse has a lot of intrinsic value," Bienstock added. "Our career with him doesn't end on Saturday."

At that particular moment, Bienstock and Winner were admiring their new purchase as he grazed near his Barn 22 on the Churchill Downs backstretch. Domestic Dispute was halfway through his first full day under the care of Patrick Gallagher.

"He's a great-looking horse," Bienstock said. "A great color. We went out to Taylor Made Farm [Sunday] and saw his sire, Unbridled's Song, and what a magnificent-looking horse he is. You can bet they're rooting for this guy."

So is Gary Garber. He has done the Derby before, back in 1991 when he finished fifth with Quintana, a colt he claimed for $50,000. And even though Domestic Dispute's dam, Majestical Moment, was killed in a Kentucky barn fire two years ago, while in foal to Exploit, Garber still has the colt's half-sister to carry on the female line.

"Anything can happen, I know that," Garber said. "If that wasn't true, Empire Maker would have already won the Derby and we would be giving Frankel the trophy.

"I just hope the horse runs huge for these guys. I really do. Stranger things have happened. And don't worry about me. I will be in the winner's circle with them."