03/23/2010 11:00PM

Kentucky Derby no certainty for Connemara


A plausible assumption is that the winner of the Lane's End Stakes on Saturday will run back five weeks later in the Kentucky Derby as the $500,000 purse and Grade 2 ranking virtually assure the winner a spot in the 20-horse field.

Another plausible assumption is that Connemara will win the Turfway Park showcase as a solid favorite, giving Todd Pletcher yet another bullet in his Derby holster.

Putting the two assumptions together, however, might be a bit premature.

Connemara "could win the Lane's End and still not go to the Derby," said Pletcher, adding that much of the colt's Derby status would depend on how he trains at Churchill subsequent to the Lane's End.

With the Lane's End contested at 1 1/8 miles over Polytrack at the Florence, Ky., track, Connemara will be making his fifth career start Saturday, and all five will have come over synthetic surfaces.

"We're not looking beyond this race," said Pletcher, who has another six or so major prospects for the May 1 Derby.

Connemara, with Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze in from Northern California to ride, heads a prospective field of about nine 3-year-olds expected for the Lane's End, which will be part of a one-hour broadcast with the Louisiana Derby on the USA cable network.

Connemara is owned by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Susan Magnier. The Giant's Causeway colt opened his career last October by winning a Turfway maiden race, and in his last race, he won the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on Feb. 20. Pletcher called him "a work in progress still. Like some of the Giant's Causeways, he's sort of slow to put it together, yet he's 3 for 4 with a close second. He obviously liked Turfway when he broke his maiden. He's another one that acts like he wants the distance."

Lane's End entries were to be drawn Thursday as Turfway has employed a 48-hour draw schedule for much of the winter.

Five other stakes also will be run Saturday, led by the Grade 3, $125,000 Bourbonette Oaks and the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes. While general admission is free on all other days at Turfway, the price is $10 for Saturday.

Turfway meet wraps up Sunday

At previous winter-spring meets, Turfway had conducted racing through the Thursday night prior to the opening of the Keeneland spring meet, which always comes on a Friday.

But with Wednesdays having been eliminated from the schedule, Thursday hung out there all alone. So Turfway made a scheduling change, cutting all of what they called the "orphaned" dates that would have ended or started their various meets this year (April 1, Oct. 7, and Nov. 28). That means closing day for the winter-spring meet is Sunday, with no racing in Kentucky for four days until Keeneland opens Friday, April 2.

* Keeneland recently released a lengthy schedule of activities and promotions to be offered throughout its 15-day meet that runs through April 23. The track continues to sell $50 year-long admission passes through its website, keeneland.com.

* With all their best races being saved for Saturday, all that Turfway could muster for a 12-race Friday night card was a bunch of lower-level races, with a maiden special weight (race 8) and a starter allowance (race 2) being the best of them. First post is 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

* With the final four-day stretch of the winter-spring meet starting Thursday at Turfway, Rex Stokes had edged away to a 51-48 lead over Tommy Pompell atop the jockey standings.

- additional reporting by David Grening