Friday, March 21, 2008 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, KY . . . March 21, 2008 . . . Mid-morning Friday on the Turfway Park backside, Lane's End Stakes contenders were pulling at hay nets or dozing, blanketed against the morning chill. Horses and trainers alike are, as trainer Grant Hofmans said, "on cruise control" until Saturday.
Hofmans' Lane's End entry, Halo's King, was on the track this morning for "an easy mile, just to keep him busy," the trainer said. With post time for the Lane's End at 6:49pm Saturday, Hofmans said Halo's King will go an easy six furlongs in the morning to "have something to do." The trainer's entry in the Rushaway, Acting Out, galloped a mile and a half.
Grant Hofman's father, trainer David Hofmans, also was in the shedrow with his entry, Medjool. Medjool stood in the gate this morning and galloped a mile and a half. "He would have to be first or second [in the Lane's End] for us to go forward toward the Derby," said the elder Hofmans. "It depends on the money, since he doesn't have any graded earnings. But he's happy, and he seemed to like the track this morning."
Business as usual also kept the Todd Pletcher trio happy Friday morning. Chitoz galloped a mile and a quarter, and Duke of de Buqe and Holidaze, the latter Pletcher's Rushaway entry, both jogged. Assistant trainer Whit Beckman said the three would walk the shedrow Saturday morning.
Lane's End contender Cannonball arrived in Kentucky on Wednesday and has been training over the Polytrack at Keeneland. "He shipped in unbelievably," said trainer Wesley Ward. "He's doing fantastic and is all set for [Saturday]. He's a turf horse and turf horses usually like the Polytrack. He's never even worked on the surface before, but if how he's training on it is any indication, then he should run very well."
Racecar Rhapsody will make his first start since the Delta Jackpot December 7, where he was fourth behind fellow Lane's End contender Turf War, the dead-heat winner with Z Humor. Turf War returned to finish ninth in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, while Z Humor's best finish since was a fourth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Commenting on the Delta Jackpot, trainer Ken McPeek said, "Horses haven't run too well out of it, but we did run back in 13 days and I think we were a little aggressive with that. The trip in and out of Delta Downs is hard and I think it takes a horse a while to adjust to it. He's had more time for this. Even if we just run well it’s a good spot for him."
Bourbonette Oaks offers competitive test
In the Bourbonette Oaks, a Grade 3 Kentucky Oaks prep on the Lane’s End undercard, McPeek will saddle A to the Croft for her first start of the year. Last year, the Menifee filly was second in both the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga and Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland before finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. On March 15 she posted a bullet work at Gulfstream Park, going five-furlongs in :59 flat, best of 24 at the distance.
"I think she's going to run a really big race," said McPeek. "She's been training lights out in Florida."
Trainer Larry Jones currently trains the two best three-year-old fillies in the country in Proud Spell and Eight Belles, but one of the main reasons he left Oaklawn early was to bring Maren's Meadow to the Bourbonette. The consistent filly has never been worse than fourth in seven career starts and exits a runner-up finish in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn February 17.
"We're back in familiar territory with these fillies this year," said Jones, who has built a solid reputation with Grade 1 winning fillies such as Island Sand and Wildcat Betty B. "We weren't too sure what to do with that colt last year." [Editor's note: Last year Jones's colt Hard Spun won the Lane's End and finished second in the Kentucky Derby.]
"She's doing very well," said Jones. "We've been high on her from the very beginning. We were a little disappointed when she finished second in her debut, but that was to Bsharpsonata, who is running her lights out in Florida right now. She came back and won her second start and then had to face Proud Spell in the Matron. Then she got sponged [had a sponge placed in her nasal cavity] at Delaware. She's done well since and seems to be getting better every start. Her last race was her first around two turns. She may be a notch below Proud Spell right now, but this is a very nice filly."
In the stretch of the February 23 Valdale Stakes at Turfway, trainer Greg Foley hoped Valentine Fever might hang on for second or third after Love Buzz opened up three lengths on the field. "I said to myself, 'I'm not going to beat her,'" Foley said. "My filly looked like she was done, but [jockey Thomas] Pompell got in to her and she came back to win. She did the same thing in a race last year at Keeneland [October 13 allowance win]. She's a gutsy little filly."
Valentine Fever is now four-for-seven lifetime and four-for-five on synthetic surfaces. But Foley is leery of the stiff competition in Saturday's Bourbonette Oaks.
"The class of the field are the two fillies that have been off," Foley said. [Trainer Mark] Casse's filly [Clearly Foxy] has won a Grade 3, and [trainer Ken] McPeek's filly [A to the Croft] ran second in two Grade 1s at Saratoga. But it's their first start of the year, and I'm hoping they might need a race."
Though Foley is not ruling out the Kentucky Oaks should Valentine Fever win impressively, he is focused on Saturday. "This race means a lot to us," he said. "She’s a homebred and the owner has the dam [Betshe Hath a Way] as well. Valentine Fever is her first foal and it would be big if she could win a Grade 3. We'd be tickled even if she finished second or third and got graded blacktype."
In addition to the Rushaway and the Bourbonette, the Lane’s End undercard offers the Hansel Stakes, a $50,000 sprint for 3-year-olds, and the $50,000 Queen Stakes for older fillies and mares.
Turfway Prevue winner U. S. Cavalry returns for the Hansel. He faces six others, including G Areyoukidding, who's been running well in allowances at Turfway, Little Nick, who's been running against tougher competition, and Mitigation, in off two straight wins at Turfway.
Trainer Eddie Kenneally saddles three of the 10 entered for the Queen, including Gem Sleuth, a winner at Gulfstream last out. She will face Just for Keeps and Initforthekandy, respectively second and third in Turfway's Wishing Well Stakes behind the dominant Lady Belsara.
The Turfway gates open Saturday at 10am. The first of 12 races goes off at 1:10pm. General admission is $10; some reserved seats are still available. More information is available at www.turfway.com.