El Camino Real Derby (G3) hero CONNEMARA (Giant's Causeway) is the only graded stakes winner in the 10-horse field entered in Saturday's $500,000 Lane's End S. (G2) at Turfway Park, and that fact explains his status as the 9-5 favorite on the morning line. A major Kentucky Derby (G1) prep, the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack test anchors the 12-race program that features six stakes.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Connemara is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Lion Heart (Tale of the Cat), runner-up to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby. Connemara has experience at Turfway, having romped by five lengths in his career debut here in October. The chestnut then shipped to California, where he captured an allowance at Santa Anita.
Pletcher decided that the Northern California route to the Derby suited him best. Connemara was dispatched as the 3-5 favorite in the California Derby at Golden Gate, but he showed inexperience in the stretch drive and finished second to RANGER HEARTLEY (Lost Soldier), whom he had previously beaten in that allowance. Next time out in the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby, Connemara made no mistake, rallying strongly to score by 1 1/4 lengths. North America's all-time winningest rider, Russell Baze, makes the journey to Turfway to stick with the once-beaten colt as he breaks from the rail. Ranger Heartley, who faded to fifth in the El Camino Real, invades for John Sadler, and Michael Baze picks up the mount.
Two other Lane's End entrants have won at the 1 1/8-mile trip, both on turf. Connemara's stablemate, DOUBLES PARTNER (Rock Hard Ten), is two-for-two at the trip. A maiden winner on the grass at Churchill Downs in November, he came right back to win a Gulfstream Park allowance over subsequent Florida Derby (G1) fourth Lentenor (Dynaformer). Chris DeCarlo will guide Doubles Partner, who is out of a full sister to champion Serena's Song, from post 2. OUTLAW MAN (Forest Wildcat), who broke his maiden on the Santa Anita turf in January, exits a closing fourth in the Sham S. (G3) on the Pro-Ride. Interestingly, Alex Solis comes in for the ride aboard the Ken McPeek trainee. KETTLE RIVER (Congaree), a lackluster eighth in the Sham, hopes to rebound for Eoin Harty.
A pair were last seen in the Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds -- third-place finisher NORTHERN GIANT (Giant's Causeway) and eighth-placer LETSGETITONMON (Maria's Mon). Northern Giant, a Wayne Lukas pupil, had romped in an Oaklawn Park maiden by 11 1/4 lengths in his previous start, and gets Calvin Borel back in the saddle. The Steve Asmussen-trained Letsgetitonmon is a deep closer who was compromised by the lack of early pace in the Risen Star. Two back, the gray had flown home for third in the Lecomte S. (G3).
DEAN'S KITTEN (Kitten's Joy) was a late-running second to Paddy O'Prado (El Prado [Ire]) in the grassy Palm Beach S. (G3) at Gulfstream Park, keeps Cornelio Velasquez in the irons Saturday. VOW TO WAGER (Broken Vow) was awarded the victory via disqualification in the final local prep, the John Battaglia Memorial S., and faces a stiffer class test here. Rounding out the field is O.B.S. Sprint S. runner-up CHIEF COUNSEL (Officer), who will be making his two-turn debut for Bill Mott.
Ten three-year-old fillies will get their turn in the $125,000 Bourbonette Oaks (G3) at one mile. HELEN BELEN (Five Star Day), who powered to a 14 3/4-length triumph in the Valdale S. at this track and trip, will look to maintain her dominance against new shooters CASCADING (A.P. Indy), AGE OF HUMOR (Distorted Humor) and ABSINTHE MINDED (Quiet American).
Cascading captured the Glorious Song S. over Woodbine's Polytrack last November, and the Josie Carroll filly should enjoy getting back on synthetic after checking in 10th in the Forward Gal S. (G2) on the Gulfstream dirt. Busanda S. queen Age of Humor, a distant third in the Silverbulletday S. (G3) in her latest, will test a synthetic surface for the first time. Absinthe Minded endured a lot of trouble and just missed versus older allowance rivals at Oaklawn for Lukas. CACTUS CADILLAC (Cactus Ridge), who beat Helen Belen in the 6 1/2-furlong Cincinnati Trophy S., stretches back out in distance in this spot.