Sunday, March 21, 2004

Sinister G's Lane's End victory muddles Derby

Odds-on choice Birdstone fails to fire at Turfway Park

By George Rorrer
Enquirer contributor

FLORENCE, Ky. -Eleven racehorses gathered Saturday at Turfway Park to try to clarify a murky 3-year-old picture just six weeks before the May 1 Kentucky Derby.

All they settled was how unpredictably rocky the road to the Churchill Downs is likely to be.

Who won the 33rd Lane's End Stakes? Maybe it's better that first you know who didn't win.

The dapper Nick Zito brought in Birdstone, the No. 1 3-year-old in most Derby polls. Birdstone finished fifth, and Zito left the building grousing over track conditions.

Local hero Silver Minister didn't win, either. He finished 11th and last in the kind of weather he has dealt with all winter at Turfway.

The big winner was a Florida-bred family project named Sinister G, owned by two sons of veteran trainer John Toscano Jr., who trains the horse, and ridden by Paul Toscano, John Jr.'s third son.

Sinister G won the featured Lane's End Stakes by a length and a half over Tricky Taboo and another length over Little Matth Man.

Tricky Taboo, a son of Spectacular Bid, broke his maiden (scored his first victory) Jan. 29 at Turfway in the snow and has two career victories in five starts. Saturday, he was forced outside early but made it all up except for the length and a half. Little Matth Man has three victories, two seconds and a third in 11 career races.

Zito used the ESPN2 telecast to gripe about the sealing of the track (a roadroller tamps down the surface so water will bounce off).

"I don't know why they sealed the track before the race," Zito said. "It wasn't raining then, but it is raining now. He (Birdstone) got shuffled back and was mired down on the inside. He just didn't run."

The trainers of Sinister G and Tricky Taboo said they originally thought of entering their horses in the Rushaway, Saturday's other race for theoretically inferior 3-year-olds. That race didn't clear up anything, either. It was won by Brass Hat, a gelding. Zito's favored entry of El Prado Rob and Pies Prospect finished fourth and fifth.

Sinister G's trainer, John Toscano Jr., said he'll take his horse back to New York and nominate him to the Wood Memorial and look into the Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland before making a decision on the Derby.

Sinister G went to the lead immediately and maintained a length advantage down the back stretch. He was headed briefly by That's An Outrage, which gave way down the stretch. Toscano said the track, which later was rated wet-fast and then sloppy, made him decide to go right for the lead.

"I was a little concerned once it was sealed," he said. "I thought the strategy had to change. I planned to stay a little farther back, but I said if he wants to stay close, I'll let him know that speed can hold on this track. When he broke on top, it was kind of a surprise. But when he did it so easily, I was happy."

The colt is 3-2-1 in eight starts, the first seven in New York. Its last win was in an allowance race in January at Aqueduct.

The trainer said it was a last-minute decision to enter Sinister G in the Grade II Lane's End rather than the Rushaway, a $100,000 listed stakes on Saturday's undercard.

"I knew Birdstone was a really good horse. I'm surprised he ran so poorly," John Toscano Jr. said. "Paul has always had confidence in this horse. He said if he ever got his act together, then we're going to have some fun with this horse."

Sinister G paid $34.80, $14.20 and $8.

DERBY PREPS: Smarty Jones won his fifth race in five starts and his third straight stakes race, running away with the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

• At New York's Aqueduct, Saratoga County defeated Triple Crown prospects Eddington and Redskin Warrior in the Gotham.

Road to Ky. Derby

Remaining preps for the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs:

3/27 UAE Derby, Dubai

4/3 Santa Anita Derby, S. Anita

4/3 Illinois Derby, Sportsman's

4/10 Wood Memorial, Aqueduct

4/10 Blue Stakes, Keeneland

4/10 Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn

4/17 Lexington, Keeneland

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