03/02/2006 1:00AM

Strong Contender headed for Lane's End


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Strong Contender, who emerged as a Kentucky Derby candidate with a smashing allowance win here on Feb. 22, will make his next start in the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March 25, trainer John Ward confirmed Thursday.

Ward, who had earlier mentioned March 18 races such as the Rebel at Oaklawn Park or the Gotham at Aqueduct, had several reasons for altering course and choosing the Lane's End. Among the reasons was the new Polytrack that Turfway Park began using last September.

"He trained on it at the Keeneland training track," Ward said. "He's such a big horse, that racetrack should be pretty safe for him - bigger turns."

Ward said he liked the extra week for Strong Contender and that he'll most likely be able to keep Edgar Prado on his horse in the Lane's End. Prado has several top 3-year-olds, including First Samurai, who runs Saturday; Barbaro, who runs in the April 1 Florida Derby; and Barbican, whom he may ride in the Gotham on March 18.

By running in the Lane's End, Strong Contender will be stretching out from a one-turn mile to a two-turn 1 1/8 miles.

"I don't have to win that one," said Ward. "What we're going for is graded earnings. If he runs good in it, we have the option of running back or not running back."

The field for the Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters. If more than 20 are entered, the field is determined based on graded stakes earnings. Strong Contender, who is 2 for 2, does not have any graded earnings.

Ward said that if he elects to run Strong Contender again after the Lane's End, it would most likely be in the Blue Grass on April 15.

Wait a While vs. French Park in Bonnie Miss

While Saturday's card is dominated by the 3-year-old males, Sunday's card will feature the Bonnie Miss and Forward Gal, a pair of Grade 2 events for 3-year-old fillies. Both stakes are worth $150,000.

The Bonnie Miss, run at nine furlongs, is looming as a showdown between graded stakes winners French Park and Wait a While.

French Park won the Pocahontas and Golden Rod as a 2-year-old before suffering her first defeat in the Silverbulletday Stakes at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 14. Wait a While comes off a 14-length victory in the Davona Dale, which was run over a sloppy track.

Others pointing to the Bonnie Miss are Demoiselle winner Wonder Lady Anne L, Tempted winner Better Now, Mia's Reflection, Saratoga Drive, and Teammate.

A large field is expected for the Forward Gal, run at seven furlongs. Original Spin, the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, will make her 3-year-old debut in the Forward Gal, which includes India, Joint Effort, Lake Alice, Miraculous Miss, Misty Rosette, Sweet Fervor, Vestrey Lady, and Win McCool.

Zito has 11 runners on Saturday

Out West, Bobby Frankel has 14 runners on Santa Anita's 11-race card. Here in Florida, Nick Zito isn't too far behind, with 11 runners on Gulfstream's 11-race card.

Zito will participate in four of the six stakes on the card, including the Fountain of Youth with Great Point and Hemingway's Key; the Gulfstream Park Handicap with Sun King and Andromeda's Hero; the Swale with Beacon Shine; and the Richter Scale Breeders' Cup with Middle Earth.

In addition to Great Point, Hemingway's Key, and Beacon Shine, Zito will be running five other 3-year-olds on the card. Eager Genius (1st) and Strike at Will (4th) are maidens. Protagonous, a debut winner here on Feb. 4, is entered in a seven-furlong entry-level allowance race. Superfly and Patriot Game are entered in an entry-level allowance race going nine furlongs.