03/19/2008 11:00PM

Flip side of a Polytrack Derby prep

Email

FLORENCE, Ky. - Officials from racetracks that host Kentucky Derby prep races often arrive at Churchill Downs wearing ballcaps, buttons, or other paraphernalia touting the winner of whatever race they have hosted.

The Turfway Park folks came to Churchill last May openly rooting for Hard Spun, the winner of the Lane's End Stakes, perpetuating a Turfway tradition that has included such Lane's End winners and major Derby threats as Hansel, Prairie Bayou, Stephen Got Even, and Perfect Drift.

The 37th edition of the Lane's End on Saturday will mark the third time the race will be run on a synthetic surface, and although Turfway was fortunate last year to produce such a fine prospect in Hard Spun, the eventual Derby runner-up, the nature of Polytrack is such that there probably will come a day when a turf specialist will win the Lane's End and then skip the Derby.

"That is a consideration," said Turfway president Bob Elliston. "With the unique benefit we've enjoyed with both dirt and turf horses running well on Polytrack, that is a flip side."

If, say, Adriano were to win Saturday, then that very scenario might well unfold. Heretofore a turf specialist whose lone dirt try was a poor one - he was ninth, beaten 17 lengths, in the Fountain of Youth last month on the Gulfstream Park main track - Adriano appears destined for a career on grass. Asked this week whether a Lane's End victory would mean the colt would move on to the Derby, trainer Graham Motion said: "No, I think it's unlikely at this point, but never say never," adding that the Fountain of Youth "kind of proved that he's probably not going to be as effective on the dirt."

Cannonball is another Lane's End starter who has excelled on turf but is lackluster on dirt, having flopped early in his career in two main-track tries. His breeder-owner, Ken Ramsey, said he is more likely to look closely at the Derby in case of a Lane's End triumph, but conceded that's partly because he is a lifelong Kentuckian always eager for a shot at the Derby.

Elliston said that the winner of the Lane's End becomes a major source of pride for Turfway, and for that horse to bypass the Derby would be disappointing, albeit understandable.

"While this race is clearly a prep for Derby and Triple Crown series, horses that come out of here succeed in all walks of life," he said, noting how Balto Star, the 2002 Lane's End winner, eventually became a Grade 1 turf runner.

"Are we interested in seeing the winner go to the Derby? Absolutely. But at the same time, our sense is that the track we have is designed to produce classic and graded winners. It wouldn't break my heart if the winner skipped the Derby but went on to become a Grade 1 winner down the road, whether it's turf, synthetics, or whatever."

Strong jockey lineup Saturday

Lane's End Day typically attracts some of the best jockeys in North America, and this year is no exception. Kent Desormeaux, Edgar Prado, Alex Solis, Robby Albarado, and Rene Douglas are among the highly accomplished riders here to ride.

Another riding star here Saturday is Julien Leparoux, who two years smashed the Turfway record for wins at a winter-spring meet. Leparoux ended the 2006 meet with 167 wins, surpassing the previous record of 150, set in 2004 by Rafael Bejarano.

Leparoux, 24, also has starred in recent meets at Keeneland and Churchill. He rode most recently at the Fair Grounds after having moderate success on the Southern California circuit following the Churchill fall meet.

Farish heading to state hall of fame

Lane's End owner Will Farish will be inducted next month into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. Farish, 69, is enjoying an incredible period as one of the world's iconic horse breeders. Last year, Lane's End in Versailles, Ky., was home to three of the top five sires in progeny earnings: Smart Strike (first), A.P. Indy (second), and Langfuhr (fifth).

Farish is one of eight people scheduled for hall of fame induction on April 30 in Louisville. Tickets and further information are available at kentuckyathletichalloffame.org.

Media to honor '07 leaders

Ramsey, Leparoux, and trainer Steve Asmussen will be honored between races Saturday by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Media during its 18th annual awards presentation.

The awards are given to the owner, jockey, and trainer who won the most races the previous year at Kentucky tracks. Those 2007 totals were 49 for Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, who have won the KTM award every year since 2001; 231 for Leparoux, the riding leader for the second straight year; and 77 for Asmussen, who previously led once, in 2004.

Event raises $16,000 for Vitek

Turfway Park officials said more than $16,000 was raised Tuesday night at the annual crawfish boil on behalf of ailing jockey Justin Vitek. Among the items sold during a silent auction and raffle was an acoustic guitar signed and donated by country star Dierks Bentley, which owner Billy Hays bought for $1,000.

Vitek has been hospitalized in Jewish Hospital in Louisville since being found to have acute myelogenous leukemia. The 34-year-old Texas native, who last rode Feb. 14, has been undergoing chemotherapy and blood transfusions since being admitted Feb. 17.

Another benefit function on Vitek's behalf is scheduled for April 21 at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville. More information is available by e-mailing jolynnjohnston@yahoo.com.