Connemara, winner of the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) last month, is the 9-5 morning line favorite for the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park March 27.
One of two entered in the Lane's End by trainer Todd Pletcher, Connemara is the only graded stakes winner in the field of 10 3-year-olds for the 1 1/8-mile event. Pletcher, who also entered Doubles Partner, is seeking his third win in the Lane's End. He previously won the race with Balto Star in 2001 and Flower Alley in 2005.
The Lane's End is the ninth of 12 races on the Turfway program. Also on the card for 3-year-olds is the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, as well as the $150,000 Boubonette Oaks (gr. III) for sophomore fillies at one mile.
Connemara, to be ridden by Russell Baze, drew the rail. A Giant's Causeway colt out of the Mr. Leader mare Satin Sunrise, he likes to come from well off the pace. In the El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 20, he trailed the field for the opening half-mile, rallying four wide for Baze on the final turn and coming home a 1 1/4-length victor.
Owned by Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, he has won three of four starts, all on synthetic surfaces. His lone defeat came in a runner-up finish to Ranger Heartley in the California Derby at Golden Gate Jan. 16. Ranger Heartley, from the John Sadler barn, is also entered in the Lane's End off a fifth-place finish in the El Camino Real.
Connemara broke his maiden at Turfway in his debut race last October before heading to California. In his most recent work March 20 at Santa Anita, he went four furlongs in :47.80, seventh-fastest of 47 at the distance.
Pletcher said earlier this week that Connemara is not definitely being aimed at the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill Downs May 1.
"We're not ruling out the Derby for him, but we're really not looking beyond this race," Pletcher said. "He liked the track at Turfway when he broke his maiden, so this looks like a good spot for him. He has trained on dirt and turf, but synthetics seem to be his preferred surface. If he does well, whether he goes in the Derby would probably depend more on how he did training at Churchill following the race."
Doubles Partner, 10-1 on the morning line, steps up in the Lane's End off back-to-back wins on turf, the most recent an impressive allowance win at Gulfstream last month at nine furlongs.
"This will be a step up for him," said Pletcher of the son of Rock Hard Ten, "but he did beat Lentenor in his last race, and Lentenor just came back to be fourth in the Florida Derby. He is a WinStar (Farm) horse so he's spent a lot of time training at Keeneland and he seems to like the synthetic."
The co-second choices at 5-1 are Northern Giant, who starts from post 7 for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and the Mike Maker-trained Dean's Kitten, leaving from post 9.
Westrock Stables' Northern Giant was third in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Feb. 20, beaten less than two lengths by the victorious Discreetly Mine.
“We had two options, the Louisiana Derby or Lane’s End,” said Lukas. “We thought he ran well enough in the Risen Star to merit trying this race and feel he’s well placed here. The distance won’t be a problem, and (jockey) Calvin Borel is a plus. The only gray area is the synthetic surface.”
Northern Giant’s last work came March 21 at Oaklawn Park, a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.40, second-fastest of 20 at the distance over a track rated good. The improving colt, also by Giant's Causeway out of the War Chant mare Jessi Take Charge, broke his maiden 16 days prior to the Risen Star by 11 1/4 lengths over a sloppy Oaklawn strip with Borel aboard.
Dean's Kitten, a homebred owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, has had one prior start on a synthetic track, finishing third over Keeneland's Polytrack in his debut last April. Seven of the Kitten's Joy colt's races have been on turf, including a minor stakes win at Belmont Park last fall. He is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Hallandale Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park Feb. 7.
"It was a very good race on a speed-biased course, so Turfway will be just what the doctor ordered," said Maker, who owns five consecutive training titles at the Kentucky track. Cornelio Velasquez has ridden Dean's Kitten in his last two starts and has the mount once more.
California shipper Ranger Heartley has four wins in 10 starts, each victory coming in front-running fashion, including the Cal Derby, which he won by three-quarters of a length over Connemara. He faded in the El Camino Real Derby, but was beaten less than four lengths by Connemara.
“We’re looking for another chance to keep him on the Derby trail, and we wanted to keep him on the synthetic, so we decided to take him out of town,” said Sadler. “It wasn’t that smooth last time, but he’s been training forward since that race. I’m not concerned about the distance, but he likes to be on the lead, so it depends on what kind of trip he gets.”
Sadler claimed Ranger Heartley for $32,000 at Hollywood Park last July for owners David and Herb Alpert. “You’re not thinking ‘Derby’ then,” said Sadler. “You just hope he’s worth the money. So he’s been a big thrill for us and the Alperts because he turned out to be better than that.”
Also in from California are Darley Stable's lightly raced Kettle River and Brooklyn Boyz Stables' Outlaw Man.
Kettle River won back-to-back route starts before an eighth-place finish in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita Feb. 27.
“He did disappoint me in that race,” said trainer Eoin Harty. “He’ll need to show big improvement and I’m hoping he rebounds here.”
The Lane’s End would be the fifth career start the son of Congaree , who will be ridden for the first time by James Lopez.
Outlaw Man ran fourth in the Sham. The gray son of Forest Wildcat broke his maiden by a nose for trainer Ken McPeek Jan. 27 going nine furlongs on Santa Anita's turf course. Alex Solis flies in from Southern California to accept the return mount.
Also in the field is Chief Counsel, who has not been out of the money in five starts for trainer Bill Mott. He will be routing for the first time here while also making his graded stakes debut. Letsgetitonmon, eighth in the Risen Star last time, and recent John Battaglia Memorial Stakes winner Vow to Wager complete the lineup. Vow to Wager won the Feb. 27 Battaglia via disqualification.
The Rushaway, which is not graded, drew a field of eight. Pletcher entered Exhi , a son of Maria's Mon who ran second to Odysseus in an allowance at Tampa Bay Downs in his most recent start. Odysseus, who won that race by 15 lengths, went on to win the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III).
“He was no match for Odysseus,” said Pletcher, “but he’s been training well and we always wanted to try him on the synthetic. This looked like a good spot to try him in a stakes race.”
Lukas entered Activity Report, stretching out for the first time after recently running third in the Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn. In the Paint ran into trouble in his last race, the roughly run John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway, and finished third, beaten less than two lengths.
$500,000 Lane's End Stakes (gr. II, Race 9, 5:12 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (Synthetic)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Connemara (KY), R A Baze, T A Pletcher
2. Doubles Partner (FL), C P DeCarlo, T A Pletcher
3. Chief Counsel (KY), F C Torres, W I Mott
4. Kettle River (KY), J Lopez, E G Harty
5. Ranger Heartley (KY), M C Baze, J W Sadler
6. Outlaw Man (VA), A O Solis, K G McPeek
7. Northern Giant (KY), C H Borel, D W Lukas
8. Letsgetitonmon (KY), J McKee, S M Asmussen
9. Dean's Kitten (KY), C H Velasquez, M J Maker
10. Vow to Wager (KY), V Lebron, D L Romans
All carry 121 pounds.