04/22/2007 11:00PM

Safari Queen favored in Bewitch


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Nobody can be in two places at the same time, but this is the time of year that some people in racing may feel they have one foot in Lexington and another in Louisville. With the Keeneland meet winding down and the Kentucky Derby just around the corner, Interstate 64 certainly is not the road less traveled.

Count trainer Todd Pletcher among those who do not need to consult Rand-McNally regarding the most efficient way to get from Keeneland to Churchill Downs. With full barns at both tracks, Pletcher probably can name most every exit on the 72.7-mile route, and with as many as five starters preparing for the May 5 Derby at Churchill, no one could blame him for looking a few days ahead while finishing out the final three-day stretch at the Keeneland spring meet.

Not that Pletcher won't be focusing on the task at hand when the $150,000 Bewitch Stakes, the first of three Grade 3 stakes this week at Keeneland, anchors a nine-race Wednesday card. He will have another favorite, the Argentine-bred Safari Queen, while looking to tack on another stakes win to the two he recorded last weekend, his first of the meet - the Giant's Causeway with Forest Code and the Appalachian with Audacious Chloe.

Safari Queen, with John Velazquez to ride, is one of seven fillies and mares entered in the 46th running of the Bewitch, a 1 1/2-mile turf race. Owned by Arindel Farm, Safari Queen comes off a flawless 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Orchid on the March 31 Florida Derby undercard at Gulfstream Park.

Safari Queen has been extremely reliable since Pletcher first unveiled her at the 2006 Gulfstream meet. In her 10 races since being imported from Argentina, she has 5 wins, 2 seconds, and has never been beaten by more than four lengths in any of her five defeats. Using her superior tactical ability once again, she figures to be very tough Wednesday when breaking from post 7.

If Safari Queen is upset, the most likely perpetrator would be Barancella, a French-bred mare trained by Bobby Frankel. Since finishing second 2 1/2 years ago in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup over this same turf course, Barancella has been a perennial contender in long-distance turf races throughout North America.

The rest of the field for the Bewitch, which is scheduled to be run at 4:45 p.m. Eastern as the eighth race, is Mama I'm Home, Zulu Queen, Moon Berry, Maxine's Hymn, and Indy Trouble.