04/14/2006 11:00PM

Sinister Minister in a runaway

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Pat Lang
Sinister Minister, with Garrett Gomez up, leads from start to finish to score a 12 3/4-length win in Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bob Baffert has turned into the king of the road in this year's Kentucky Derby prep races. He has had modest success at his home base of Santa Anita with his 3-year-olds, but when the three-time Derby-winning trainer has gone out of town, he has reaped the rewards.

Last week, in a driving rainstorm at Aqueduct, Baffert captured the Wood Memorial with Bob and John, and on Saturday, on a warm, sultry afternoon at Keeneland, he sent out Sinister Minister for a smashing upset victory in the Grade 1, $750,000 .

Sinister Minister ($19.40) led every step of the 1 1/8 miles before a crowd of 30,660 and crossed the wire 12 3/4 lengths best. The rest of the field was well spread out. Storm Treasure, a 65-1 longshot, rallied for second, 4 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Strong Contender. Bluegrass Cat was another four lengths back in fourth and was followed, in order, by First Samurai, Seaside Retreat, Sadler's Trick, Little Cliff, and Court Folly.

Garrett Gomez, who rode Bob and John last week, also was aboard Sinister Minister for Baffert. He did not want to commit to either colt for the Derby following the Blue Grass, but with so much speed expected for this year's Derby, and with Bob and John having a stronger resume to date, the late-running Bob and John would seem to be the more likely choice.

Sinister Minister sped through fractions of 22.91 seconds for a quarter-mile, 45.88 seconds for a half-mile, 1:09.94 for six furlongs, and 1:35.45 for one mile, before completing 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:48.85. The victory was the second in five lifetime starts for Sinister Minister, a colt by Old Trieste. He most recently had finished second to Cause to Believe in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields on March 11. His victory was worth $465,000 to owners Terry Lanni, Ernie Moody, and Bernie Schiappa.

"We thought with his speed, coming here, he's extremely fast, and Garrett worked him the other day and he was pretty impressed with the way he worked. He worked awesome," Baffert said of a six-furlong drill in 1:11 on April 9 at Santa Anita. "If you want to find out if you belong in the Derby, run against the big boys."

The unexpected result gave Baffert another Derby contender to go along with Bob and John and Point Determined, and left questions regarding the status of Bluegrass Cat and First Samurai.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Bluegrass Cat, did not want to make any decisions about the Derby immediately following the race.

"Let's see how he comes out of it," said Pletcher, who said Bluegrass Cat would have his throat examined to see if he had bled.

Rafael Bejarano, who rode First Samurai, said the distance was too far for his mount.

"I don't think he wants a mile and an eighth," Bejarano said.