03/18/2008 11:00PM

Lane's End anybody's race

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FLORENCE, Ky. - One need look no further than the Turfway Park morning line to see just how competitive the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes could turn out to be Saturday.

Seven of the 12 starters were listed at 8-1 or lower by track oddsmaker Mike Battaglia, an obvious hint that nothing stands out and more than a few are in with a solid chance.

Halo Najib is a lukewarm 7-2 favorite in a Grade 2 race that serves as the lone major Kentucky Derby prep of the weekend.

"It looks like a very wide open race," said Dale Romans, trainer of Halo Najib. "We're all coming to see where we belong. The Derby picture is starting to sort itself out, and we want to be part of it."

Two starts back, Halo Najib glided to a 2 3/4-length victory in the restricted Ocala Breeders' Sales Championship under Kent Desormeaux, who retains the mount. Halo Najib is one of just three stakes winners in the field, with Turf War, a dead-heat winner of the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot in December, the lone starter with a graded victory.

Halo Najib will start from post 8 in the 1 1/8-mile Lane's End, which will be televised live by ESPN. The one-hour broadcast starts at 6 p.m. Eastern, with post time set for 6:47. The preceding race on the card, the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, also will be shown live.

Turf War, with Patrick Husbands to ride, will start from post 11 when he tries to rebound off a disappointing seasonal debut in the Southwest Stakes. Other contenders include Adriano (post 5) and Cannonball (post 9), both of whom have raced primarily on turf; Racecar Rhapsody (post 6), making his first start at 3; and the uncoupled Todd Pletcher pair of Duke of de Buke (post 1) and Chitoz (post 3).

This will be the 37th running of the Lane's End, and the third time the Turfway showcase has been run on Polytrack. The 2007 winner, Hard Spun, finished second to Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby in his next start.

Heavy rain pelted the greater Cincinnati area Wednesday, but training and racing were held without incident over a Polytrack surface that appeared to hold up extremely well. Drier, colder weather is next, with an unseasonably chilly high temperature of 44 forecast for Saturday.

The Lane's End will be the last of 12 races. Four other stakes directly precede it. In those races:

* Miner's Claim and Icabad Crane, both unbeaten in two career starts, head a field of nine 3-year-olds entered in the 1 1/16-mile Rushaway, (race 11) which last year was won by the eventual Blue Grass Stakes winner, Dominican. Another contender is Big Glen, winner of the WEBN Stakes two starts back for trainer Frank Brothers.

* Eight 3-year-old fillies were entered in the one-mile Bourbonette (race 10), a Grade 3, $150,000 stakes which sometimes produces a starter for the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes, set for April 5 at Keeneland. It looks like an evenly matched race, having drawn Maren's Meadow from Oaklawn, Clearly Foxy and A to the Croft from Florida, and the top three finishers from the recent Valdale at Turfway.

* Seven 3-year-olds will go six furlongs in the $50,000 Hansel (race 9), with U.S. Cavalry a logical favorite off an easy allowance prep. Little Nick, with Desormeaux riding for Romans, also figures well.

* Ten fillies and mares, including the Eddie Kenneally-trained trio of Saint Pegasus, Gem Sleuth, and Victorianna, kick off the stakes action in the $50,000 Queen (race 8) at six furlongs.