03/19/2008 11:00PM

Everybody hoping for a breakout race

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Delta Jackpot co-winner Turf War (outside) is one of 12 set to go in Saturday's Lane's End.

FLORENCE, Ky. - There is room at the top - at least in the top 10 or so.

Although none of the 12 horses running in the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes has made an impact on the Kentucky Derby trail, and none is ranked this week in the top 25 in Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch, that is subject to change when the race takes center stage nationally on Saturday at Turfway Park.

A handful of under-the-radar colts are in the Lane's End, and although a victory over the Turfway Polytrack by a turf specialist such as Adriano or Cannonball would do little to alter the Derby picture, other contenders have shown enough on dirt that they could catapult into the Derby fray by winning Saturday.

Indeed, the new spring in Kentucky signals that it's put-up time for 3-year-olds looking to jump on the Derby carousel.

"He's going to have to be right there," said Mark Casse, who will send out one of the viable Lane's End contenders, Turf War. "We're not going to make any excuses for him. He pretty well needs to win, or be right there," to enter Derby consideration.

Other trainers are echoing that sentiment.

Dale Romans, who will saddle the lukewarm morning-line favorite, Halo Najib, said: "We're all trying to see if we belong."

Ken McPeek, sending out stretch-running Racecar Rhapsody for his 3-year-old debut, said: "We're taking a big swing, and if we succeed, great. If not, we go back to a more conservative route."

David Hofmans, trainer of Medjool, said: "We want to gauge where Medjool fits with the other 3-year-olds."

As for race tactics, Duke of de Buqe looks like a logical front-runner. As one of two starters for trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the Lane's End in 2002 with Balto Star and in 2005 with Flower Alley, Duke of de Buqe will be making his first start outside New York-bred company and his first on Polytrack. As such, he could come under intense pressure in quick order, and the logical candidates to reach him first are his Pletcher stablemate, Chitoz, or the Dallas Stewart-trained Macho Again, entered off a sprint victory at Fair Grounds.

After that it's anyone's guess - and that is what should make for spirited wagering. Several horses have developed midrange closing styles that could serve them well if the pace melts down, so it should be interesting to see what progress is made by midpackers such as Halo Najib, Cannonball, Medjool, and Turf War.

Turf War will be much closer to the early pace than when he finished soundly beaten as the 2-1 favorite in his last start, the Feb. 18 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Casse said.

"He was 24 lengths out of it after a half-mile at Oaklawn, and that's not him," Casse said. "He'll do whatever you want him to do. I have no concerns about that."

Turf War is a full brother to the 4-year-old standout Grasshopper. Both horses are owned in part by Will Farish, the owner of the race's sponsor, Lane's End Farm.

The deep closers in the race are led by Racecar Rhapsody, whose majority owner, Jerry Carroll, is a prodigal son of sorts. Carroll owned and managed Turfway from 1986 to 1998.

The other horses in the lineup for the 37th Lane's End, all longshots, are Rich Young Ruler, Halo's King, and El Aleman.

The Lane's End is one of five stakes that conclude a 12-race Saturday card. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern, with the Lane's End, the final race, set for about 6:47, easily the latest in race history.

The other races are the $100,000 Rushaway, the $150,000 Bourbonette Stakes, the $50,000 Hansel, and the $50,000 Queen.

Television coverage of the Rushaway and Lane's End will be provided live during a one-hour ESPN broadcast starting at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Although ontrack attendance for the Lane's End has exceeded 20,000 in each of the last five years, the forecast of unseasonably cold temperatures Saturday may hurt attendance. The Weather Channel has called for a daytime high of 43 degrees and a chance of showers.