Wednesday, March 24, 2010 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, KY . . . March 24, 2010 . . . Horses may collect any number of impressive trophies after the first Saturday in May, but the window of opportunity to be ready precisely on that day is small indeed. For trainer Eoin Harty, Kettle River has a lot to prove in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park this Saturday, at least as far as the Derby is concerned.
After two straight route wins, one on the turf at Hollywood Park and the other on the all-weather surface at Santa Anita, Kettle River surprised Harty by finishing eighth in the Sham Stakes (G3) in his last start.
"He did disappoint me in that race," said Harty. "He'll need to show big improvement and I’m hoping he rebounds here; that's pretty much it in a nutshell. He got shuffled back early on in the Sham but there's nothing I can really pinpoint in his effort that day. The Lane's End won't be his last shot as a stakes horse, but it would be his last as far as the Kentucky Derby is concerned (if he doesn't run well)."
The Lane's End would be the fifth career start for Kettle River, a son of Congaree. His most recent breeze, five furlongs in 1:01 flat, 10th of 34 at the distance, came Sunday at Santa Anita. His jockey for Saturday has not been named.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Letsgetitonmon was added to the Lane's End probable list earlier this week. After a good third-place effort in the LeComte Stakes (G3), Letsgetitonmon was eighth in the Risen Star (G2) behind Discreetly Mine, the morning line favorite for this weekend's Louisiana Derby.
"He seemed to just jump up and down on the dirt (in the Risen Star), so we wanted to get him back on the synthetic," said assistant trainer Scott Blasi. "He broke his maiden on it (at Arlington Park). It's an ambitious spot for him but he's training well and deserves a chance. He breezed (Monday), so we'll see how he came out of it and if all is well he'll send him to Turfway (Tuesday)."
Racing loves a rivalry, and two aiming for the Lane's End have planted the seeds already. Connemara and Ranger Heartley have faced each other three times in their young careers, with two wins for Connemara and one for Ranger Heartley. After Connemara defeated Ranger Heartley in an Oak Tree allowance in November, the two split their next two meetings. Ranger Heartley took the California Derby by less than a length over Connemara and Connemara turned the tables in the El Camino Real Derby (G3), besting the fifth-place Ranger Heartley by 3 1/4 lengths. That match-up was the most recent race for both.
Rushaway Stakes (listed)
Like the Lane's End Stakes, the Rushaway Stakes is written for three-year-olds but at 1 1/16 miles the Rushaway is one-half furlong shorter. Because the race is not graded, it doesn't offer the type of earnings needed to make the Kentucky Derby field, but the race nevertheless has launched some fine graded stakes winners, notably 2004 winner Brass Hat, who broke his maiden in the Rushaway, and 2007 winner Dominican.
As of Wednesday morning, the 2010 Rushaway expects a field of eight, including Exhi for trainer Todd Pletcher. Sired by Maria's Mon, Exhi was most recently second in an allowance race at Tampa Bay. He was beaten by 15 lengths but the winner that day was Odysseus, who next turned in a dramatic victory in the Tampa Bay Derby.
"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."
Exhi last worked on Sunday, going five furlongs in 1:01.90 at Palm Meadows Training Center, sixth-fastest of 36 at that distance that day.
Also intended for the Rushaway is Activity Report, trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Activity Report was most recently third sprinting in the Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn. He has not won at the Rushaway distance but finished a respectable third at Churchill in November. "This is a step up for him but he's run some pretty solid races and we're giving him a chance. He has good tactical speed. The question is the synthetic surface," said Lukas.
In his last race, the roughly run John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway, In the Paint ran into trouble and finished third, beaten less than two lengths by a disqualified winner. Two starts back he met bad luck in the WEBN Stakes, again at Turfway. Trainer Kellyn Gorder is hoping he gets a clear shot in the Rushaway to duplicate the impressive way he broke his maiden, also at this track. "He was in the two-hole in the WEBN, and he got bottled up in the first turn," said Gorder. "When he finally got clear, he had to steady behind a horse that backed up pretty quick. In the Battaglia, he was down on the rail and got bumped around. He bumped right back. He's a big horse. If he can find a situation where he doesn't have to stop his momentum, I'm expecting a good race. He's been training really well at Keeneland."
The maiden win was In the Paint's third start and his first in Gorder's care. The Tiznow colt is owned by WinStar and was trained for his first start by Richard Budge and his second by Pletcher.
Post positions for the Lane's End Stakes will be drawn Thursday, March 25, at the annual Call to the Post luncheon. The luncheon begins at 11:30am in the Maker's Mark VIP Tent at Turfway and is open to the public. Tickets are $35 and may be purchased at the door.