06/04/2003 11:00PM

Senor Swinger big favorite in Jefferson Cup

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - He took one swing, and he missed. So three weeks after running a distant fifth behind Funny Cide in the 128th Preakness at Pimlico, Senor Swinger is in action again, but not in the Triple Crown series.

Instead, Senor Swinger will run Saturday as the heavy favorite in the $200,000 Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, marking a return to a turf course on which he wowed many Triple Crown fans by winning the Crown Royal American Turf on the day before the Kentucky Derby.

Senor Swinger "has been been doing awesome since he came back from Maryland," said John Good, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert. "It didn't seem like the trip took anything out of him at all."

That's sobering news for the six other 3-year-olds who will face Senor Swinger, a steel-gray colt owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis. Although the Crown Royal is the only time he has tried turf, he turned in such a huge effort that the El Prado colt could be sent away as low as 2-5 in the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles.

Senor Swinger started the year in Florida with Mickey Goldfine, then was sold to the Lewises in a private transaction shortly after the March 15 Florida Derby. Following a poor effort behind Empire Maker and Funny Cide in the Wood Memorial, Senor Swinger was removed from consideration for the Kentucky Derby, but his Crown Royal victory was so impressive that Baffert felt compelled to try the Preakness.

That temptation given in to, Baffert is allowing Senor Swinger to resume his development on grass. Monday, Senor Swinger breezed five furlongs in a bullet 58.60 seconds over the Churchill main track.

"That breeze was exceptional," said Good. "We're happy with the way he's doing. He's giving us all the right signs."

Pat Day, who rode Senor Swinger in his last two races, will be in New York to ride Ten Most Wanted in the Belmont, which enables Robby Albarado to pick up the mount.

Another Preakness also-ran, Foufa's Warrior, appears to be the main challenger to Senor Swinger. Foufa's Warrior was third in the Crown Royal.

The Jefferson Cup is the ninth of 10 races on a Saturday card that begins at 1:15 p.m. Eastern. The Belmont Stakes simulcast, which will follow the 10th race by about 32 minutes, is not part of the live Churchill card, but fans can bet the race through Belmont Park's commingled pools.