Marylou Whitney Stables' homebred Birdstone, winner of the grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont last year, is the talk of Turfway leading up to their signature Kentucky Derby (gr. I) prep, Saturday's Lane's End Stakes (gr. II). However, the diminutive son of Grindstone
hasn't exactly scared anyone off from the $500,000 race with as many as 14 others considering the race.
Birdstone, trained by Nick Zito, is a winner of three of four career starts, but has not faced stakes company since the Champagne early last October. He kicked off his 3-year-old campaign with an easy three-length score under jockey Jerry Bailey in a two-turn allowance race at Gulfstream Park Feb. 14 on the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) undercard. Bailey will ride Birdstone in the 1 1/8 miles Lane's End.
"His allowance victory was reminiscent of his Champagne and maiden race, in which he ran an eye-popping race," said Bailey in a national teleconference Tuesday afternoon. "The allowance race went as Nick and I had planned, and he got what needed out of it. Now he needs to step up against better horses and run a little harder, while saving enough for the next race or two."
Bailey noted the son of Grindstone
is "kind of on the small side, and he hasn't grown a lot from 2 to 3, but his father wasn't a big horse either."
According to Turfway officials, there are plenty ready to test Birdstone, but a firm number won't be known until Thursday's draw. He figures to get his stiffest opposition from a trio of contenders: Silver Minister, Little Matth Man, and New Element.
Others that may pass the entry box are: Hasslefree, Stolen Time, Hippocrates, Tale of Glory, That's an Outrage, Sinister G, Bornwithit, Rockhewn, Song of the Sword, Tap Dancing Mauk, and Tricky Taboo.
Unbeaten Song of the Sword, from the connections of last year's winner New York Hero, may likely wait until the April 3 Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Hawthorne. Several runners, like Tap Dancing Mauk and Tricky Taboo, have also been nominated to the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, to be run at 1 1/16 miles on the Lane's End undercard.
"Somewhere along the way they have to have a hard race," Bailey said of 3-year-olds leading up to the Derby. "They have to be in a fight at least once. Preferably not the race before the Derby and not the first race back. This would be the time you'd want him to have a tough race."
Zito will be sending out his ninth Lane's End runner. He won the race in 1999 with Stephen Got Even.
Silver Minister has the same connections as last year's Lane's End runner Champali. Silver Minister, by Silver Deputy
out of the Capote mare Mint Leaf, is trained by Turfway local Greg Foley and is owned by Lloyd Madison Farm. Robert Lloyd, a Louisville businessman, is part-owner and manager of Lloyd Madison Farm. The other partners of the farm live in Wisconsin, where Lloyd grew up. Madison is the state's capital.
Silver Minister, was a $20,000 Keeneland September sale graduate, has won four of six career starts and has won four of four starts at Turfway. His last three have been a progression of distances and class hikes in the stakes ranks: a five-length score in the 6 1/2-furlong Turfway Park Prevue Stakes on Jan. 3; a 5 1/4-length win in the one-mile WEBN Stakes on Feb. 7, and a 2 3/4-length tally in the 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia Memorial Stakes.
Silver Minister tuned up for the Lane's End with a 1:03 4/5 move Sunday at the Churchill Downs Training Center.
Little Matth Man, second in the Battalgia, is expected to ship back to Turfway from New York later in the week.
New Element, a son of Louis Quatorze
, trained by Ronny Werner, is coming off a maiden victory at Fair Grounds on Feb. 15. Bred in Kentucky by Moonlight Thoroughbreds, New Element is owned by Select Stable One.
The Lane's End, run six weeks before the Derby, was won last year by Paraneck Stables' New York Hero. Two years ago, Perfect Drift won the race, then went on to run third in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Lil E. Tee is the only winner of the race, then run as the Jim Beam Stakes, to go on and win the Derby, but three winners have gone on to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I): Summer Squall (1990), Hansel ('91), and Prairie Bayou ('93).