Friday, March 19, 2004

Lane's End contenders headed by Birdstone

But balanced field may yield surprise

By George Rorrer
Enquirer contributor

FLORENCE - If Birdstone is to hang onto his precarious lead in most Kentucky Derby polls, he'll have to show Turfway Park oddsmaker Mike Battaglia he can do more than beat a suspect field of 11 thoroughbreds Saturday in the 33rd Lane's End Stakes.

Battaglia installed Birdstone as an even-money favorite Thursday, and the horse drew post position No. 1. Local Hero, Silver Minister and Bill Mott-trained Stolen Tune are next at 5-1, with the former in post position No. 7 and the latter No. 4.

The 2004 crop of 3-year-olds is more balanced than fearsome, Battaglia said. Therefore, that scatters the vote, and Birdstone - or someone - has an open invitation to seize the day.

To do that, Battaglia said, the Nick Zito-trained Birdstone must "win and win impressively."

Bring it on, said Greg Foley, who trained Silver Minister for Lloyd Madison Farms of Oldham County.

Foley said he's happy with the post position draw, and he suspects Zito is, too.

"We're right in the middle," Foley said. "We're outside the horse to beat and able to see the others who might have some speed.

"But I'm sure Jerry Bailey (Birdstone's jockey) will get him off the rail and into a good spot."

Rafael Bejarano, who leads the nation in victories this winter with 114, will ride Silver Minister, who is Foley's second consecutive winner of the three races that lead up to Lane's End - the Turfway Preview, the WEBN Stakes and the John Battaglia Memorial.

Last spring, Foley's Champali saw his streak end in the Lane's End behind New York Hero.

The Lane's End is one of 12 races, including five stakes races, on Saturday's card. First post is 12:30 p.m.

The Lane's End is scheduled for about 3:30 p.m. The Lane's End and the Rushaway Stakes will be nationally televised by ESPN.

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