Trainer Jimmy Jerkens sends out Mint Lane in the Dwyer.

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens sends out Mint Lane in the Dwyer.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Improving Mint Lane Tries Dwyer

Challengers include Ready's Image, Halo Najib, and Fidelio.

From the New York Racing Association

When Mint Lane began his racing career last November, trainer Jimmy Jerkens wasn’t quite sure what type of horse he had in his barn. Jerkens knew that the son of Maria’s Mon had speed, but didn’t know if that was the colt’s only weapon.

The fact that Jerkens has entered Mint Lane in the 91st running of the $200,000 Dwyer Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles indicates that Mint Lane has revealed himself to be more than just a flat-out sprinter. The race is scheduled for July 6 at Belmont Park.

Mint Lane, owned by Pinebloom Stable, will be ridden by Eibar Coa.

After two dismal starts to begin his career, Mint Lane broke out with a front-running, dominant victory at Aqueduct Jan. 12. In his next start, he encountered trouble to finish a lackluster fifth, then followed with his second victory March 26, this time coming home an 8 1/2-length winner.

It was at this point that Jerkens made a decision that would prove the start of a promising career for the son of Maria's Mon..

“I had kept him at Aqueduct for the winter because I wanted to take advantage of his speed on the inner track,” Jerkens said. “In April, I was looking at an allowance race for him there, but then someone I know who is a big numbers freak said I should enter him in the (Frederico) Tesio down at Pimlico. He convinced me that Mint Lane’s numbers proved he belonged with those type of horses.”

Mint Lane ran second by a head to Icabad Crane in the Tesio, but showed Jerkens a dimension that every trainer wants to see.

“Sometimes, when a horse gets an easy lead and then horses come to him, you figure, ‘Okay, he’s run hard but now he has nothing left,’ ” Jerkens said. “But in the Tesio, Mint Lane kept on fighting and that was great to see.”

Next up was the grade II Peter Pan at nine furlongs on May 10. Once again, Mint Lane was on the lead and once again, grudgingly gave up that position to eventual winner Casino Drive. Casino Drive had been brought in from Japan to run in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) , as his dam, Better Than Honour, was also the dam of 2006 and 2007 Belmont Stakes winners Jazil and Rags to Riches. The Peter Pan was his Belmont Stakes prep, and stablemate Spark Candle kept Mint Lane busy on the lead.

Casino Drive, unfortunately, did not make the Belmont Stakes because of a stone bruise and is spending the summer back in Japan. No one will ever know for sure how he would have fared in the Belmont Stakes, but Jerkens is convinced that Casino Drive brought out the class in Mint Lane.

“I know that Casino Drive went by Mint Lane pretty easily, but again, that was a fast race and Mint Lane wouldn’t let anyone else get by him to be second,” Jerkens said.

One June 13, Mint Lane ran his fastest race to date, going 1 1/16 miles in 1:42 3/5, winning by 5 3/4 lengths under mild urging and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 106.

“The Dwyer is coming up at the right time for him,” Jerkens said. “He seems to thrive on this schedule of running every three weeks or so. He’s fit and he’s happy and hopefully, he’ll run his race on Sunday.”

Stronach Stable’s Fidelio is taking a big step up in the Dwyer for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. A winner of three of five starts, including his last two, the Awesome Again colt figures to push the pace under jockey Javier Castellano.

Ready’s Image, winner of Saratoga’s grade II Sanford as a 2-year-old last summer, makes his first start beyond seven furlongs in the Dwyer.

$200,000 Dwyer Stakes (gr. II, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Halo Najib (FL), 121, Kent J. Desormeaux
2. Web Gem (KY), 117, Jorge F. Chavez
3. Mint Lane (KY), 119, Eibar Coa
4. Ready's Image (MD), 119, John R. Velazquez
5. Pascal (KY), 117, Cornelio H. Velasquez
6. Fidelio (KY),     117, Javier Castellano
7. Tizbig (KY), 117, Channing Hill