06/05/2001 12:00AM

Skip to the Stone transferred to Baffert


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A disagreement between trainer Mike Mitchell and the owners of Grade 3 winner Skip to the Stone has led to the colt's transfer from Mitchell to Bob Baffert. The change happened Monday, one week after Skip to the Stone finished fourth in the Grade 3 Laz Barrera.

Skip to the Stone, owned by a 10-member partnership called Greystone Racing, is the only 3-year-sprinter this year to win graded stakes on both coasts. He won the Grade 3 Baldwin in February at Santa Anita, and the Grade 3 Bay Shore in April at Aqueduct. Overall, the colt has won 3 of 8 and earned $190,116.

Although Mitchell declined to address specifics, he said plans called for colt to be given some time off. The Barrera was his seventh start in a four-month period. "I think he had a pretty tough campaign," Mitchell said. Another horse owned by Greystone and trained by Mitchell, the 2-year-old Rock the Stone, was transferred to trainer Barry Abrams.

Though he lost one sprinter, Mitchell appears to have gained another. In the seventh race feature on Thursday at Hollywood, Quinton's Gold makes his first start since joining the Mitchell barn in April. The 4-year-old has been training in sensational fashion for his comeback, and could be long gone at six furlongs in the two-other-than sprint. Two for seven lifetime, Quinton's Gold has not raced since September at Fairplex Park, but was in steady training this spring at Turf Paradise.

A chance meeting with the colt's owners - Victor and Kimberly Riches of Phoenix - led to Mitchell taking the sprinter. He was trained last summer in California by Ted West Jr. Mitchell said the colt is ready to roll.

"If he runs like I think he's going to, you can single him," Mitchell said. How confident is Mitchell? He suggested the owners fly in from Phoenix for the festivities, which they plan to do. Quinton's Gold was nearly ready to run last month, but Mitchell opted to skip a May 14 race in order to get him just right. "He's had some real nice works, and his color looks great," Mitchell said.

Quinton's Gold's main rivals are Champ's Star, Reba's Gold, and Hopewell Heart.

The healing powers of Idaho water

You don't see many first-time starters who are 6-year-olds. Chekote will be the exception when he debuts Thursday in race 1, a seven-furlong sprint for $25,000 maiden-claimers. Trainer Mike Smith has moderate expectations. After all, it has taken three years for the son of Native Prospector to get to the races.

"When I had him two years ago, I thought this horse could really run," Smith said. "Every time he got ready to run, something would happen." Chekote finally got hurt and was sent to Smith's father in Idaho. At Reed Smith's ranch in Malad, Idaho, there is a mineral spring that year-round pumps 80-degree water, which he says carries wonderful recuperative powers for injured horses. "It has a healing effect that's incredible," Smith said. "We use portable corrals that go across the water, and the horses have to stand in the water to eat."

The mineral spring helped Chekote return from prolonged delay. He was working five furlongs in May 1998 when he got hurt the first time, and was up to six furlongs in February 1999 when he got hurt again. Said Smith: "He's never been operated on, never had any chips or anything like that. He's training really good; I expect him to run well." Finally.

Came Home's stunning debut

Came Home's blistering debut Sunday has established him as one of the top contenders for the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship on July 15. First, Came Home, a 2-year-old son of Gone West, must recover from a minor injury he sustained in the five-furlong race that he won by eight lengths in 57.73 seconds, good for a 91 Beyer Speed Figure.

Trainer Paco Gonzalez said the colt grabbed a quarter "pretty bad, from the pastern down to the quarter." He said participation in the Juvenile "depends on how long it takes to heal. Usually these things heal quick, but this one might take a little longer."

Came Home, owned and bred by Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan, was ridden by Chris McCarron to the impressive win. "He acts like an older horse in the morning," said Gonzalez, who also trained the colt's stakes-winning dam Nice Assay. Finishing third behind Came Home was Seeking the Cat, one of Richard Mandella's top 2-year-old prospects. He had early trouble, and ran on well for third. "I think that's a good colt, he looks like he wants a mile," Mandella said, regarding the son of Seeking the Gold.

Fonz's, runner-up in the Willard Proctor on May 26, had his shins scraped on Monday, a procedure similar to pin-firing, but that has only half the three-month recovery time of pin-firing. It will be a six-week recovery for Fonz's, and trainer David LaCroix will pass the Juvenile. "That would be pushing it, but we'll be ready for Del Mar."

Aptitude and Skimming work

Aptitude and Skimming, the Bobby Frankel-trained, Juddmonte Farms-owned runners who will be heavily favored when they run as an entry Sunday in the Grade 2 Californian, worked five furlongs separately on Tuesday. Skimming worked in 1:00.20; Aptitude worked in 1:00.40.

Skimming's record and second-place comeback in the Mervyn LeRoy seemingly makes him the stronger half of the entry, but Frankel suggested Aptitude is a better horse than his sixth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup makes him look. "Everyone's lost faith in this horse but me," Frankel said. "They're both doing well, and they both need a race before the [Hollywood] Gold Cup. This meet will be the last time I'll run them together. Skimming will go to Del Mar," where he won the Pacific Classic last year, and "Aptitude will go to Saratoga."

Aptitude and Skimming face a small field in the Californian that will include Futural, City West, and Irisheyesareflying. In the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap on Sunday, Frankel will start Senure and Timboroa against heavily favored Bienamado. As many as 11 turf runners may started in the 1 1/4-mile Whittingham. First post Sunday is 12 noon. The Californian goes as race 4 and will be televised nationally by CBS.

Jamaican Rum to go in Cal Sires

While the focus on 3-year-olds will be at Belmont Park Saturday, California-bred Jamaican Rum will try to get back on track in the $100,000 Cal Sires Stakes at Hollywood Park. The colt's atrocious behavior is a sure sign to trainer Jim Cassidy that he is ready to fire.

"He wasn't sure whether to eat the hotwalker or the blanket this morning. He's quite happy with himself right now," Cassidy said Tuesday. "I think he looks at my book and knows when he's getting ready to run. The last three days, he wants to kill everybody."

Jamaican Rum finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby, following a runner-up finish in the Arkansas Derby and third-place finish in the San Felipe. Though Cassidy believes his future is on grass - the Cal Sires is on grass at a mile and a sixteenth - Cassidy will consider the main-track Swaps on July 15.

"I don't want to run him more than once a month, and the Secretariat [at Arlington] isn't until August. I don't have anything for July, so the Swaps is an option." Jamaican Rum will face Excessive One and bred-for-grass Cool Composure in the Cal Sires.