Tuesday, March 18, 2008 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, KY . . . March 18, 2008 . . . The Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park Saturday will be the second start off a 10-week layoff for Turf War, trainer Mark Casse’s likely entry for the race. In his first start back, Turf War finished ninth in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn last month, but as he computes the complex math of past performances, Casse is confident his colt is ready for Saturday.
"He's doing great," Casse said. "Last time he was 25 lengths out of it and finished beaten only 8 1/4 lengths, and only 2 1/4 behind [Liberty Bull, third in the Southwest], the horse that won the WinStar Derby. I think the Southwest has turned out to be a good race, so [Turf War's] performance wasn't bad. The track was favoring speed that day and it was his first start in three months, so he had his reasons for running the way he did.
"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 looked long and hard at the WinStar Derby, but we thought it might be too hot. The weather at Turfway and the fact it's in Kentucky were key factors in our decision. 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."
Casse has five times won the Bourbonette Oaks, a Grade III race on the Lane's End undercard that sets up the Kentucky Oaks, and he comes into this year's renewal with a strong contender in Clearly Foxy. He also will start Miner's Claim in the Rushaway. Casse's horses arrived at Turfway on Tuesday morning under the care of assistant David Adams.
Grant Hofmans will send Halo's King to either the Lane's End or the Rushaway, and the choice may rest on the colt's bankroll. If more than 12 seek to enter the Lane's End, the field is determined with preference to graded stakes winners, then to stakes winners, and then by career earnings.
"I'm not afraid to run him in that spot," said Hofmans. "He's a nice horse and I have confidence in him. I'm not sure where we would stand with earnings. He only has $11,000."
Should Halo's King run in the Lane's End, Hofmans would be competing against his father, trainer David Hofmans, who plans to send Medjool to the gate.
"We want to gauge where Medjool fits against the other 3-year-olds," said the elder Hofmans, "and we chose this spot to run against some good horses. I wanted to get a mile-and-an-eighth race in him, which is why we skipped the San Felipe [1 1/16 miles last Saturday at Santa Anita]. He had some trouble in those [maiden] races where he ran second. He's a real nice horse and he seems to be blossoming at the right time.
"We’re a little shaky on earnings [$62,960]. If we win the Lane's End, we'll probably train him up to the Kentucky Derby. If we run well and still feel like we need earnings, we may come back in the Blue Grass [at Keeneland]."
The horses from both Hofmans' barns are expected at Turfway on Tuesday.
Cannonball worked four furlongs Monday at Palm Beach Downs for trainer Wesley Ward. "It was the best work he's ever had," said Ward. "It was beautiful, nice and easy. The exercise rider had to turn him over to the pony afterwards because she was so sore from pulling to keep him slow. He went a half in :48 4/5 and that was going as slow as he can on the turf."
Cannonball leaves West Palm Beach at 10:30am Wednesday and will go into Ward's barn at Keeneland before shipping up to Turfway on race day.