02/28/2004 1:00AM

Silver Minister sweeps preps

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J.Stewart/Lang Photos
Silver Minister wins the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes on Saturday at Turfway Park.

Silver Minister completed a remarkable feat for his connections when he pulled away to a surprisingly easy win Saturday in the $100,000 at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

Victory in an unusually deep renewal of the Battaglia gave Silver Minister a sweep of the three prep races that lead to the Lane's End Stakes, the annual Turfway showcase race. Silver Minister previously had won the Turfway Prevue and the WEBN Stakes and with his win Saturday duplicated the sweep that Champali pulled off last year, for owner Lloyd Madison Farms and trainer Greg Foley.

On a sun-splashed afternoon, Silver Minister, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, stalked an early pace set by Peter the Rock in the 1 1/16-mile Battaglia before quickly taking command entering the far turn. From there, Silver Minister turned back a challenge from White Mountain Boy, then finished 2 3/4 lengths clear of the late-rallying Little Matth Man. It was another length back to White Mountain Boy in third and another 2 1/4 lengths to Tap Dancing Mauk in fourth.

Silver Minister, a Kentucky-bred gelding by Silver Deputy, finished in 1:44.79 over a fast track and returned $6.40 as the favorite in a field of 11 3-year-olds. The opposition in the Battaglia was by far the toughest that Silver Minister had faced in six career starts.

The Battaglia is the main local prep for the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes, an important Kentucky Derby prep to be run March 20. Silver Minister will run back in the Lane's End, attempting to complete an even tougher sweep that his stablemate could not. Champali ran third behind New York Hero last year.

The Battaglia win was the fourth of six for Bejarano on a 12-race card. All six were favorites.