03/21/2009 12:00AM

Lane's End offers Derby credentials

Matt Goins
Bittel Road, winner of the Grade 3 Woodford Reserve Bourbon at Keeneland, heads a field of 12 in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway.

FLORENCE, Ky. - Consecutive Saturdays have evinced a sort of feast or famine on the Kentucky Derby trail. Whereas four major preps last week showcased the likes of Friesan Fire, Pioneerof the Nile, and Old Fashioned, there is only one prep this week, the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes, in which none of the horses has proved he belongs with those others.

Indeed, at Turfway Park, the small northern Kentucky track starved for national attention following a winter of discontent, the Grade 2 Lane's End represents a bounty of unknowns. Bittel Road and West Side Bernie are logical favorites after faring respectably in their only starts at 3, and they are among a field of 12 filled with sleepers who could suddenly jump into the Derby fray with a life-best effort.

Todd Pletcher is hoping Bittel Road will prevail as the likely favorite and further solidify the collective stature of the 3-year-olds who have been wintering in Southern California. Bittel Road ran fourth behind Pioneerof the Nile, Papa Clem, and I Want Revenge in the Feb. 7 Bob Lewis Memorial at Santa Anita, and all three of those horses ran well in their next start.

"The form of his races has been holding up well," said Pletcher, who already has won the Lane's End twice, with Balto Star (2001) and Flower Alley (2005). "The key now will be to see how he transfers his races at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita to what is a little different synthetic surface at Turfway Park."

Bittel Road, with Garrett Gomez to ride, will break from post 2 in the 1 1/8-mile Lane's End, which anchors a one-hour ESPN2 telecast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern. Bittel Road has had seven races - the first five on grass, the last two on synthetics - and fits the popular profile of a turf horse adept on synthetics.

West Side Bernie, on the other hand, has raced on dirt and synthetics, never running a bad race in five starts while lurking on the outer edges of the division's upper crust. He won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway last September.

"He's been consistent, and the good thing is he keeps improving, I think," trainer Kelly Breen said.

West Side Bernie, a colt by Bernstein, was named by owners George and Lori Hall of New York City in honor of Leonard Bernstein, composer of the classic musical "West Side Story."

West Side Bernie will break from post 4 with Edgar Prado up.

The rest of the field for the 38th Lane's End steps up with less-impressive credentials.

Hold Me Back, with Kent Desormeaux riding, makes his 2009 debut for WinStar Farm and trainer Bill Mott after a sharp series of workouts at Payson Park in south Florida. Hold Me Back won his first two starts at 2 before ending the year with a fifth-place finish in the Remsen Stakes.

Jack Spratt, with former Turfway kingpin Julien Leparoux to ride, was overmatched in the Fountain of Youth on the Gulfstream Park main track but figures to fare better when switching to Polytrack. Like Bittel Road, Jack Spratt has fared best on turf.

Others on the Lane's End fringes include A.P. Cardinal, a tractable colt owned in part by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino; Orthodox, who figures as the pacesetter after winning his last start, a Fair Grounds turf allowance, in wire-to-wire fashion; and Proceed Bee and Parade Clown, the one-two finishers three weeks ago in the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway.

The rest of the field is Bruce N Autumn, Loch Dubh, Flying Private, and Dynamite Bob.

This has been a difficult winter at Turfway. The track had to cancel seven programs, mostly because of weather, and purses were cut earlier this month because of a sharp decline in all-sources handle. But Lane's End Day is always the biggest business day of the meet - attendance last year was 18,680 and all-sources handle $9.8 million - and track officials said they hope more fans from Louisville than usual will be in attendance since the University of Louisville was scheduled to play about an hour north in Dayton, Ohio, on Friday and Sunday in the NCAA tournament.

The Lane's End, the 10th of 12 races, is the last of five straight stakes on a program that starts at 1:10 p.m. Eastern. The other stakes, starting with the sixth race, are the $50,000 Queen, the $50,000 Hansel, the $150,000 Bourbonette Oaks, and the $100,000 Rushaway. The Rushaway will be part of the ESPN2 show.

Post time for the Lane's End is 5:43 p.m. Although general admission is free on other days at Turfway, the price Saturday is $10.

The most notable addition to the regular Turfway wagering menu is a $1-minimum super high five on the Lane's End that will carry over to the 12th race if it goes unhit.

The Saturday forecast for the Cincinnati area calls for mostly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 57.