05/05/2005 12:00AM

Senor Swinger key to Baffert's day

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - On three different occasions on the first Saturday in May, trainer Bob Baffert has made a jubilant jaunt to the winner's circle at Churchill Downs.

All of those trips, of course, came in the aftermath of Baffert's three Kentucky Derby wins. This year, Baffert's lone Derby runner, Sort It Out, is a huge longshot, but Baffert still has a solid chance to get his picture taken as the afternoon sun begins its slow fade.

That's because Baffert will run as one of the main contenders in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a 1 1/8-mile grass race that directly precedes the Derby on the Saturday card. Senor Swinger, owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, has won 4 of his 5 starts over the Churchill grass course, a statistic that Baffert finds highly encouraging.

"He loves this turf course, we know that," said Baffert. "He might actually be more well off at a mile or so, but he's ready to run big off the layoff."

Senor Swinger has been away more than six months, but Baffert said the 5-year-old horse has been training exceptionally well in recent weeks. "We gave him the winter off, and he's fresh and ready to go," he said.

Senor Swinger, with Jerry Bailey to ride, will break from post 7 as one of 10 older horses entered in a highly competitive renewal of the $400,000 Woodford Reserve.

The lukewarm program favorite is Meteor Storm, a Southern California standout who drew the inside post and whose last seven races have come in Grade 1 or Grade 2 company.

"This guy couldn't be doing any better," said Wally Dollase, trainer of Meteor Storm.

Other legitimate contenders in the Woodford include , an Unbridled colt with a ferocious stretch kick; and A to the Z, whose owners, Andrew and Paula Capestro, paid $20,000 to make him the lone supplementary nomination to the race.

Perfect Drift brings one of the more entertaining factoids into the race. He recently won at Keeneland after going winless in 2004, a year in which he kept such rich company that he earned nearly $950,000.

The rest of the Woodford Reserve field is G P Fleet, Quest Star, Place Cowboy, and America Alive.

The 19th Woodford Reserve is the ninth of 12 races at Churchill Downs on Saturday, with post time set for 4:52 p.m. Eastern.