02/26/2004 12:00AM

Here comes first wave of invaders

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In at least one important respect, Saturday's John Battaglia Memorial is an apt preview to the Lane's End Stakes: The out-of-towners are ready and willing to ship to Turfway Park to run.

Except for the Louisville-based standout, Silver Minister, the major contenders in the $100,000 have traveled from well beyond the boundaries of Kentucky. An influx of highly regarded invaders almost always appears for the $500,000 Lane's End, the Turfway showcase that will be run March 20.

Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Battaglia drew a full field of 12 3-year-olds, including an interesting array of new shooters: Little Matth Man and Risky Trick, the respective one-two finishers in the Feb. 7 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct; White Mountain Boy, an unbeaten Maryland-bred making a rare leap into open company; and Iron Rogue, an Illinois-bred who represents the first starter in the training career of David Fortner, a former longtime assistant to Elliott Walden.

As capable as the newcomers appear to be, the favorite still is likely to be Silver Minister, winner of the Turfway Prevue and WEBN Stakes in his last two starts. Silver Minister, a Silver Deputy gelding owned by the Lloyd Madison Farms syndicate, will be trying to emulate his Greg Foley stablemate, Champali, who last year reeled off three stakes wins at Turfway, including the WEBN and Battaglia, before finishing third in the Lane's End.

Rafael Bejarano, far and away the leading rider at Turfway this winter, retains the call from Foley aboard Silver Minister.

The Battaglia typically produces at least a starter or two for the Lane's End, a Grade 2 race at 1 1/8 miles. The connections of several major Kentucky Derby contenders already have said they are pointing to the Lane's End, most notably Birdstone, winner of the Grade 1 Champagne last October.

One noteworthy aspect to the Lane's End this year is that it will be run six weeks before the May 1 Derby, a scheduling break that would give a horse three weeks before and after a final Derby prep. In some recent seasons, depending on how the calendar fell, the Lane's End has created a scheduling dilemma when it was held five weeks before the Derby.

The Battaglia, named in honor of the former Latonia general manager who died in 1981, is carded as the 10th of 12 Saturday races. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.