WEST SIDE BERNIE, last seen finishing third in Gulfstream Park’s Holy Bull Stakes, and BITTEL ROAD, fourth in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, appear likely to vie for the role of favorite in Saturday’s running of the Grade II, $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes at 1 1/8 miles at Turfway Park.
The race is rated as the Northern Kentucky track’s premier prep for the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. It falls at a time when a winner could look ahead to another prep in three weeks or just train up to the May 2 Derby, seven weeks hence. Much has to do with the amount of graded earnings a horse would need to get into the gate for the Churchill Downs classic.
BITTEL ROAD, a son of Stormy Atlantic trained by Todd Pletcher, will have the riding services of Eclipse Award winner Garrett Gomez as he bids to snap a four-race losing streak. He won the first three races of his career, which included the Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland on turf. He finished fourth to leading West Coast Kentucky Derby winner PIONEEROF THE NILE in the Grade I CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park and his 3-year-old debut in the Robert B. Lewis on Feb. 7.
Pletcher’s colt is the 5-2 morning line favorite for the Lane's End, while WEST SIDE BERNIE is the 3-1 second choice.
Ten 3-year-olds will tackle BITTEL ROAD and WEST SIDE BERNIE. That group includes PROCEED BEE and PARADE CLOWN, the 1-2 finishers in Turfway Park’s John Battaglia Memorial; JACK SPRATT, eighth in the Grade II Fountain of Youth stakes; FLYING PRIVATE, second in Oaklawn Park’s 6-furlong Mountain Valley Stakes; LOCK DUBH, winner of Turfway’s Prevue Stakes before finishing fifth in the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park; A.P. CARDINAL, fifth in Tampa Bay Downs’ Sam F. Davis Stakes in his last outing; ORTHODOX, a gate-to-wire allowance winner at Fair Grounds in his most recent start, and HOLD ME BACK, making his first start of the year.
Turfway Park also will present the Rushaway Stakes at 1 1/16 miles as a supporting feature on the day. The field of eight 3-year-olds includes the Kenneth McPeek-trained FITZASLEW, ZIEGFELD and NINTH CLIENT.
MAFAAZ EARNS KENTUCKY DERBY SHOT WITH KEMPTON WIN – MAFAAZ held off a desperate rally by SPRING OF FAME to score a neck victory in Wednesday’s first running of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at England’s Kempton Park. In doing so, the colt owned by Dubai’s Sheikh Hamdan earned the first-ever guaranteed spot in the starting gate for the May 2 Kentucky Derby, along with a $100,000 bonus if he does start in the 1 ¼-mile classic at Churchill Downs.
Ridden by Richard Hills, MAFAAZ swept to the lead inside the final furlong and held off the runner-up’s late charge. The John Gosden-trained son of Medicean completed the 1 1/8-mile distance over Kempton’s synthetic Polytrack surface in 1:55.13. The race was run clockwise under the lights at the track located just outside of London.
Gosden, who has praised the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes concept and its guaranteed spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate for its winner, indicated that Mafaaz would likely travel to Kentucky for a Derby run. He said a run in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 11 at Keeneland was possible for the colt.
WESTERN PROSPECTS VS. LARRY JONES
Even though the Kentucky Derby is seven weeks away, the picture is beginning to take shape. At this point, it appears to be the West vs. Larry Jones.
At least that’s the way the past weekend showed it shaping up. Even though the Jones trainee that heads many handicapper’s list – OLD FASHIONED – was soundly beaten by a Triple Crown non-nominee in Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes, the trainer who has sent out the runner-up in the past two Kentucky Derbys scored a runaway victory in the Grade II Louisiana Derby with three-time Louisiana stakes winner FRIESAN FIRE.
The loss in Arkansas wiped out an undefeated record for OLD FASHIONED after four straight wins, including Oaklawn’s Grade III Southwest Stakes in his previous start. Posting the victory was 56-1 longshot Win Willy, making his debut in stakes company. OLD FASHIONED chased a sharp early, took the lead in the stretch but couldn’t hold off the winner, who collared him at the sixteenth pole and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths on a track rated “good.”
In New Orleans, FRIESAN FIRE stalked the early pace of West Coast invader PAPA CLEM, moved to a clear lead in early stretch and bounced away to win by 7 1/4 lengths on the slop0py Fair Grounds track.
Even in defeat, PAPA CLEM proved for the second straight that the West Coast runners who have been training and competing on synthetic surfaces will need to be reckoned with when the Kentucky Derby rolls around. Trainer Gary Stute, who had hoped that PAPA CLEM would duplicate the March 7 victory in Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes by I WANT REVENGE, who was making his first start outside of California and on a dirt track. Though disappointed that the son of Smart Strike didn’t win, Stute said he believes he deserves to stay on the Triple Crown trail.
Another promising note was struck by TERRAIN, who finished a solid third, beaten a head for second, in his first start of the year. GIANT OAK could do no better than fourth, and the major disappointments of the race were FLYING PEGASUS, sixth in the race, and PATENA, eighth.
Helping to strengthen the West Coast’s hand along the Triple Crown was the highly expected victory by PIONEEROF THE NILE in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes. The son of Empire Maker seldom was challenged in the 1 1/16-mile race on Pro-Ride synthetic surface, but jockey Garrett Gomez did have to get after him to keep his mind on his business as he traveled down the stretch on an easy lead.
With the victory – his fourth in seven starts, two of which were on dirt at Saratoga last summer as a 2-year-old – PIONEEROF THE NILE also stamped Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes on February 7 as a key race along the road to the Triple Crown. Not only has the Bob Baffert trainee come back to win another graded stakes, but Louisiana Derby runner-up was second in that race and Gotham winner I WANT REVENGE finished third that day.
Another non-nominee – Musket Man – posted an upset victory in the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, running down long shot JOIN IN THE DANCE in the final strides. Justdontcallmejeri was third while 2-1 favorite HELLO BROADWAY was a distance and disappointing seventh after a wide trip.