Bet on this: Baffert, Lukas a winning combination

Friday, May 16th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas are having way too much fun this week.

As usual, both trainers are focused on winning another Preakness _ an achievement that provides the victor with wealth, fame and bragging rights in horse racing's most intriguing rivalry.

Lukas and Baffert have been competing in big races for several decades. This year, however, is unlike any other: In a strange twist of fate, the two have been thrown together as an entry in Saturday's race.

Scrimshaw, trained by Lukas, and Baffert's Senor Swinger are both owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis and therefore linked for betting purposes.

It's the first time that Lukas and Baffert have been paired in a Triple Crown race, and both are having a blast.

``I'll have to carry him on this one,'' Baffert joked.

To which Lukas responded, ``I said that line first, and he stole it from me.''

The two trainers have exchanged good-natured barbs all week. Both take great satisfaction in beating the other, but this a friendly rivalry fueled by respect.

``We have a nice friendship. The media over the years has tried to pit us against each other, but that isn't the case,'' Lukas said. ``We go back about 30 years. We go at it because it's the nature of the game, but we have a good rapport with each other.''

Although Scrimshaw and Senor Swinger are teamed at the betting window, Baffert and Lukas won't share the wealth if the other wins the $1 million Preakness. The goal for both is to beat favorite Funny Cide and derail the gelding's pursuit of the Triple Crown.

Lukas has five Preakness victories and Baffert has won four, including the past two with Point Given and War Emblem. The trainers have been coupled as an entry in California before, but never with so much on the line.

``It was by chance. He decided to enter and I was already pretty much committed since the Derby,'' Lukas said.

Gary Stevens will ride Scrimshaw and five-time Preakness winner Pat Day will be aboard Senor Swinger, which makes the entry even more attractive.

``When you get two for one with two trainers who have been there, and you get Stevens, who won two Derbys for me, there's a lot to like,'' Lukas said. ``I think it lowers the odds; after all, we've won nine of these between us.''

Asked to explain the reason for his success in Baltimore, Baffert responded, ``Good horses.''

He's not so sure about Senor Swinger, who had two straight fifth-place finishes before winning the Grade III American Turf at Churchill Downs on May 2.

``Basically, I have an interesting horse. I don't know how good he is. But we'll find out,'' Baffert said. ``I know he can go the distance, but it's going to have to be the right kind of trip.''

A win by Senor Swinger or Scrimshaw, 11th in the Kentucky Derby, seems unlikely. Funny Cide is the 7-5 morning-line favorite, with Peace Rules, third in the Derby, next at 8-5.

The Baffert-Lukas entry is the third choice at 5-1, but the odds would be higher if the colts were separate betting interests. Lukas also sends out Ten Cents a Shine, a 15-1 long shot owned by Ken Ramsey.

The rest of the field includes Kissin Saint, Midway Road and Maryland-breds Cherokee's Boy, Foufa's Warrior and New York Hero.

While the Baffert-Lukas connection made news at Pimlico, the stakes barn will be without Funny Cide until race day.

Rarely, if ever, has the Derby winner waited so long to arrive at Pimlico. Racing officials said it hasn't happened for at least 25 years; there aren't records of arrival times before that.

Medaglia d'Oro, fourth in last year's Derby, ran eighth in the Preakness after arriving from New York the day of the race.