03/05/2004 12:00AM

Birdstone lone Lane's End star


As the Lane's End Stakes draws near, the list of nationally prominent 3-year-olds preparing to run in the Turfway Park showcase race begins and ends with one name: Birdstone.

"We're trying to get more horses, but right now it's hard to say whether or not Birdstone is scaring them off," said Randy Wehrman, stakes coordinator at Turfway in Florence, Ky.

Actually, the connections of at least a few other 3-year-olds already have committed to the $500,000 Lane's End, a Grade 2 race to be run March 20. Silver Minister and Little Matth Man, the respective one-two finishers in the Feb. 28 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway, are expected to run, and Wehrman said several other less-accomplished horses also are likely.

But probably the most notable aspect of how the race is shaping up is this: Birdstone is the only likely starter in the Lane's End among the top 25 Kentucky Derby hopefuls listed this week on Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch.

Wehrman said he and Turfway racing secretary Rick Leigh plan to begin working the telephones in the coming week in an attempt to make the Lane's End more competitive.

"Todd Pletcher has [25] horses nominated, so hopefully we'll get one or two from him, and there are some other big-name trainers we're looking to get," said Wehrman. "You always hope that your big race comes together the way you'd like."

Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey already has committed to ride Birdstone, the Nick Zito-trained colt who easily won his first and only start this year, a Feb. 14 allowance at Gulfstream Park.

The 1 1/8-mile Lane's End is one of several key Derby preps on March 20, along with the Gotham at Aqueduct and the Rebel at Oaklawn. Turfway will run another stakes for 3-year-olds, the $100,000 Rushaway, on the Lane's End undercard.

Favorites have been defeated in the last five runnings of the Lane's End. Event of the Year, an odds-on choice in 1998, was the last winning favorite.

Bejarano nearing two track records

Jockey Rafael Bejarano is quickly approaching two records at the Turfway winter-spring meet that began Jan. 1.

Through Thursday night, when he won four straight races on a 10-race card, Bejarano had ridden 98 winners from 308 starters, and his mounts had earned slightly more than $1.3 million.

The Turfway record for wins was set last year when Jason Lumpkins rode 111. The track record for earnings was set in 1999, when horses ridden by Francisco Torres made $1,636,380.

After Thursday, 20 programs still remained at the meet.

Panas uninjured in spill

Jockey Deirdre Panas escaped serious injury when John Alan, her mount in the ninth race Thursday night, broke down and fell at the half-mile pole.

Panas, whose career started in 1992 in New Jersey, had ridden primarily in Texas in recent years before moving into this region last fall, when she began riding mostly at Hoosier Park, then Turfway.

John Alan, a 6-year-old gelding who had won three races and $37,490, had to be euthanized. No other horses or jockeys were involved in the spill.

Casino bills on back burner

Although two bills addressing the controversial issue of casino-style gaming in Kentucky were introduced into the state House of Representatives late last month, the chances of either bill actually getting anywhere during the current legislative session are remote at best, say insiders close to the situation in the state capital of Frankfort.

Gene McLean, a lobbyist and consultant with close ties to the racing industry, said "all the major issues have been resolved within the industry itself, but whether that means our chances have gotten any better is anyone's guess. Given the fiscal crisis the state is in, you would think that casinos would be a welcome new stream of revenue, so I honestly believe this is something with more validity and opportunity than ever before."

Nonetheless, McLean and others concede that there is little or no apparent groundswell of support for casinos from either the Democrats who control the state House, or the Republicans who control the state Senate, meaning it is highly unlikely that a gaming bill can make it through both chambers this year. Moreover, the clock is ticking: The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn in mid-April, and matters of far greater priority to legislators still have yet to be addressed.

Racetrack officials in Kentucky long have maintained that alternative gaming is badly needed as a means of maintaining a competitive balance with other major racing states and to offset negative business trends incurred as a result of riverboat casinos in neighboring states.

Churchill opens for training

The stable area at Churchill Downs opened Friday. Track superintendent Butch Lehr said he expected "maybe a couple of hundred horses" during the first few days of training, "but then it'll gradually pick up like it always does."

This is the second year that Lehr is using what is known as a "solar cover" to stimulate growth of the Churchill grass course. "We kind of experimented with it last year and really got some great results," said Lehr.

The inner two-thirds of the seven-furlong turf course is now covered with the solar cover, which essentially is a thin, membranous tarpaulin with a green tint. "It still lets the grass breathe and allows water through," said Lehr. "It gives early germination and basically wakes up the grass after it's been dormant all winter. Last year when we took it off, you could tell a big difference. We'll keep it on there until about the first of April, when it's ready to mow."