Zayat Stables’ Halo Najib may not be coming off a winning effort but don’t let a sixth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) fool you. As far as chances in the $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park are concerned, this son of Halo’s Image stands a pretty good shot – and could just stamp his ticket to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Of the dozen 3-year-olds entered in the 1 1/8-mile event March 22 that includes Turf War, Adriano and Racecar Rhapsody, only Halo Najib has a peerless record over synthetic surfaces. With graded earnings totaling just $62,996, the Halo's Imagecolt could use the Lane's End purse to secure a spot in the 20-horse Derby field. Bred in Florida by John Scott out of the Sword Dance mare Najibe’s Wish, he broke his maiden at first asking on Keeneland’s Polytrack Oct. 11 and transitioned smoothly to dirt with a solid runner-up effort behind Court Vision in Churchill Downs’ Oct. 28 Iroquois Stakes (gr. III).
In spite of a fifth-place finish behind Anak Nakal in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), trainer Dale Romans started the colt’s 3-year-old season right back in graded company, and Halo Najib responded with a late third in the Jan. 5 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) behind Smooth Air. He returned to an artificial surface to win the Feb. 11 Darley Ocala Breeders’ Sale Championship Stakes at the Ocala Training Center.
In the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 24, the colt was well back in the field and was unable to sustain a bid that had him fourth coming down the stretch. Romans attributed the subsequent sixth among 12 starters to the 14-day turnaround the colt got between his OBS Stakes win and the Fountain of Youth effort.
“I did run him back pretty quick, and I think that may have been the biggest issue,” the trainer said. “But he was doing good, and I wanted to get one more race into him before (the Lane’s End), and the timing was right between those two. Six weeks (between races) is too long for him; four weeks is perfect, so he’s doing good and I think he’s gonna run big in this race.”
Listed as the morning line favorite at 7-2, Halo Najib breaks from post eight under Kent Desormeaux.
Trainer Mark Casse looks for improvement from the Dixie Unioncolt Turf War after a ninth-place finish behind Dennis of Cork in the Feb. 18 Southwest Stakes (gr. III). Turf War is a full brother to New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) second-place finisher Grasshopper, both out of the Mr. Prospector mare Grass Skirt. He ran in the Southwest off a 10-week layoff following a dead heat with Z Humor in the Dec. 7 Boyd Gaming’s Delta Jackpot Stakes (gr. III).
“He's doing great," Casse said. "We're right on schedule with him. We've been training all winter on Polytrack and at Ocala on an all-weather surface similar to Polytrack, so this race figured. We're trying to get him to the first Saturday in May. I expect a better performance than his last start but not his peak performance. If he runs well and everyone agrees, his next start would be the Kentucky Derby."
Racing under the colors of Woodford Racing, Will Farish and George Bolton, Turf War broke his maiden over Polytrack at Woodbine and won the Swynford Stakes there as a 2-year-old.
“He still has to prove he’s good enough (to run in the Derby),” Casse said. “He’s a big, strong colt and I can see big improvement in him from last summer and fall. He looks like he’ll run all day; this horse trains like a pushbutton runner and if you just sit on him he’ll just gallop along. He can position himself anywhere and that’s a big part of being able to run long – having enough horse to be able to finish. I have no concerns about that; he’ll do anything you ask him to do.”
Jockey Patrick Husbands will ride Turf War from post 11.
Fourth in the Delta Jackpot was Jerry Carroll and Stan Kaplan’s Racecar Rhapsody, a lightly-raced son of Tale of the Cat whose only win is a maiden effort over Keeneland Polytrack. Third in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) for trainer Ken McPeek, the colt stretches out and looks for his first graded stakes victory. He was bred in Kentucky by G. Watts Humphrey Jr. out of the A.P. Indy mare Reflect the Music. Jockey Robby Albarado rides from post six.
Courtlandt Farms’ Kentucky homebred Adriano has shown promise but must up his game – and his performance on dirt – after finishing ninth in the Fountain of Youth. The A.P. Indy colt, out of the Mr. Prospector mare Gold Canyon, went into that race off an impressive 6 3/4-length allowance win over the Gulfstream Park lawn after running fifth in the Laurel Futurity, also on turf. In his only start off the turf, the H. Graham Motion trainee finished fourth in Keeneland’s Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack after breaking his maiden on turf at Saratoga.
“I think we'll give him one more try on Polytrack,” Motion said. “Obviously, a lot of these turf horses seem to handle the Polytrack well. If he can duplicate his race at Gulfstream when he won… he should be competitive in here.”
In a March 18 teleconference hosted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Motion called the colt’s future as a starter in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) “unlikely,” but also said his performance in the Lane’s End could alter that point of view.
“You know, if he was to run a big race on Saturday it’s something we’d certainly consider, but I think it’s unlikely at this point after watching him run in the Fountain of Youth,” he said.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has been keeping an unusually low profile on the road to the Kentucky Derby this year, has two starters in the Lane’s End. Duke of de Buqe, a Dixie Union gelding bred in New York by owner Anstu Farm out of the Devil’s Bag mare Miss Livi, has won his maiden and comes into this race off a 5 1/2-length score in a Feb. 8 allowance event at Aqueduct. Chitoz, a Forest Wildcat colt bred in Kentucky by owners Wertheimer and Frere out of the Affirmed mare Wichitoz, also has just a maiden and allowance victory, the allowance won over the turf at Churchill Downs.
Chitoz comes into the race off a fourth-place effort in a turf allowance at Gulfstream, but proved his affinity for Turfway’s synthetic surface with a neck loss to Texas Fever in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) last year. In his only effort over Churchill’s dirt track, the colt was fifth in the Iroquois.
Racing fans may catch the Lane's End, a significant prep for the Kentucky Derby, on ESPN from 6:00-7:00 p.m. EST as Joe Tessitore, Jerry Bailey, Randy Moss, Jeannine Edwards, Jay Privman, and handicapper Hank Goldberg host the telecast.
$500,000 Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II, race 12, approximate post 6:49 p.m. EST), 1 1/8 miles, 3-year-olds*, Polytrack
*All starters carry 121 pounds
PP, Horse, Jockey, Odds
1. Duke of de Buqe, Julien Leparoux, 12-1
2. Macho Again, Miguel Mena, 10-1
3. Chitoz, Rene Douglas, 8-1
4. Rich Young Ruler, Thomas Pompell, 30-1
5. Adriano, Edgar Prado, 6-1
6. Racecar Rhapsody, Robby Albarado, 6-1
7. Halo's King, Jesus Lopez Castanon, 50-1
8. Halo Najib, Kent Desormeaux, 7-2
9. Cannonball, Alex Solis, 9-2
10. El Aleman, Orlando Mojica, 99-1
11. Turf War, Patrick Husbands, 5-1
12. Medjool, Michael Baze, 8-1