03/11/2005 12:00AM

Magna Graduate looking cum laude

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Andromeda's Hero, a stakes winner at Tampa, may go in the Lane's End.

Pat Byrne hardly could have mapped it out any better. The star of his stable, Magna Graduate, passed a critical test last weekend by easily winning the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, and now the colt is nearing peak form while pointing to the Lane's End Stakes.

"He needed to do what he did, first and foremost," Byrne said Friday. "It was an impressive race from him. He finished up strong, and although he may not have beat a whole lot, he did it the right way. I'm sure not going to take anything away from the colt."

Magna Graduate had been disappointing in two starts since winning an October allowance race at Keeneland. But with his 3 3/4-length triumph last Saturday in the Battaglia, he is on the verge of becoming a serious Kentucky Derby contender. A victory in the $500,000 Lane's End, the Grade 2 race to be run March 26 at Turfway, likely would certify that.

"He came out of the race in great shape, and we're excited about the Lane's End," said Byrne. "There's a natural progression, and he's headed the right way. It's going to be a good race, and if he can win that, then we might be onto something."

Byrne currently is overseeing most of his stable at Gulfstream Park in south Florida while his wife, Jill, and Garry Simms are overseeing the day-to-day care of Magna Graduate at Trackside in Louisville. Simms formerly trained Magna Graduate for Burr Travis before Elisabeth Alexander bought the colt from Travis and turned him over to Byrne.

Besides Magna Graduate, several other 3-year-olds already have been mentioned as contenders for the Lane's End, including Andromeda's Hero, the Nick Zito trainee who won the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa; Silent Bid, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who set the pace in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds before fading; and Mayan King, trained by Gary Contessa and unbeaten in two starts in New York.

Lauer stunned by breakdown

Mike Lauer was minding his own business, watching the Santa Catalina Stakes last Saturday via simulcast at Trackside, when he suddenly got a cruel jolt.

Snack, the Indiana-bred colt in whom Lauer had sold majority interest only two weeks beforehand, broke down during the Santa Catalina and was euthanized.

"I went into shock," said Lauer. "That horse was as sound as they come. It was really a terrible thing to happen."

Lauer, a trainer for more than 30 years, said he had a "great run" with Snack, winning three minor stakes before selling majority interest to J. Paul Reddam. "It was an exciting 60 days or so. I enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame."

Lauer still owns Snack's mare, Miss Riverton, who was due to have a Wagon Limit foal "any minute," Lauer said Friday. Lauer also owns a 2-year-old Jade Hunter filly out of the mare.

Troilo may return Wednesday

Veteran jockey Bill Troilo had hoped to resume riding at Turfway last week but his father, Dominic, died March 4 in Florence, Ky., and Troilo has been dealing with the memorial and other arrangements. A service was scheduled for Saturday in the family's hometown of Philadelphia.

Troilo has not ridden since undergoing minor knee surgery in early February. His agent, Mary Ellis, said Troilo probably will ride on Wednesday.

Churchill barn area open

Churchill Downs reopened its stable area Friday after the customary three-month winter break. Usually, the majority of horses who begin filling stalls are ones from Trackside, and only about 200 to 300 train there for most of March. Larger stables from Florida, Louisiana, and elsewhere are expected to start filtering in in two or three weeks.