09/04/2006 12:00AM

Preachinatthebar rallies to win


DEL MAR, Calif. - Preachinatthebar, utilizing a change of tactics and finding Monday's $89,445 Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar far easier than the Pacific Classic, rallied from last in the six-horse field to win the one-mile race. Preachinatthebar saved the day for trainer Bob Baffert, who saw favored stablemate Sinister Minister cooked on a hot pace in his first start since the Kentucky Derby.

Preachinatthebar ($6.80) held off 33-1 shot Romeo Plus to win by 1 1/4 lengths, with Southern Africa another 3 1/4 lengths back in third. With Victor Espinoza, the meet's leading rider, Preachinatthebar completed one mile in 1:37.17 on the fast main track.

Sinister Minister, the Blue Grass Stakes winner, faded to fourth after being hounded by Keep on Punching through early fractions of 22.87 seconds, 46.18, and 1:10.50.

Preachinatthebar finished last of eight in the Pacific Classic. In the Windy Sands, he broke slowly and was kept wide throughout by Espinoza, who took advantage of the pace duel up front.

Mike Pegram owns Preachinatthebar, 5, who has won nine times in 28 starts.

Earlier, Spot the Diplomat ($2.20) led a one-two finish by a heavily favored entry, winning the $106,400 I'm Smokin Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds. He beat Street Lights by 2 3/4 lengths in a field of just four betting interests. Spot the Diplomat and Street Lights are both owned by John Harris and trained by Carla Gaines. Zoning In was third. Spot the Diplomat ran the six furlongs in 1:10.56.