Bittel Road and West Side Bernie are the early favorites for the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes, an important race leading to the Kentucky Derby.
Bittel Road was listed at 5-2 in Wednesday's the morning line, with West Side Bernie 3-1 in the field of 12. Between them in the starting gate will be AP Cardinal, partly owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. His Cardinals play their NCAA tournament opener about an hour's drive up the interstate in Dayton, Ohio, on Friday night.
The 1 1-8-mile race at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., is Saturday's top Derby prep. The two favorites fared well in the draw for post positions.
Bittel Road, trained by Todd Pletcher, will start from the second slot in the gate and have leading money winner Garrett Gomez in the saddle. West Side Bernie, trained by Kelly Breen, will be two slots farther out and will have another top jockey, Edgar Prado, for the Grade 2 race.
Bittel Road has been competing with some of the best 3-year-olds in California. West Side Bernie won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile last fall at Turfway Park and was third in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream in his only race this year.
Breen said that West Side Bernie has run well against some of the nation's elite 3-year-olds and already has shown he deserves a spot in the Derby.
"I'm looking for a big race," Breen said in a conference call Tuesday. "I know he has only had one race this year but I think that he's ready. He has shown me on the track that he's been maturing.
"He has shown me some nice workouts and I think that he's run against enough elite horses right now to say that he belongs."
Trainer Terry Gestes, with 12-1 shot Proceed Bee, also had considered the Rushaway Stakes on Saturday's undercard.
"We were flip-flopping between the two, but the colt's training really good right now and this looked like a good spot to give him a shot with better horses," Gestes said.
Proceed Bee drew the far outside post, one that Breen had said would have made him consider scratching West Side Bernie.
"The track used to seem to favor inside posts, but this year it looks favorable for the outside, so I dont think the outside post will hurt us," Gestes said. "It's a long way to the first turn, so as long as we don't get hung wide, he should be OK."
The field, with jockey and morning line odds: Hold Me Back, Kent Desormeaux, 6-1; Bittel Road, Garrett Gomez, 5-2; A. P. Cardinal, Cornelio Velasquez, 10-1; West Side Bernie, Edgar Prado, 3-1; Jack Spratt, Julien Leparoux, 8-1; Parade Clown, Eibar Coa, 10-1; Bruce N Autumn, Victor Lebron, 20-1; Orthodox, Jesus Castanon, 10-1; Loch Dubh, Calvin Borel, 20-1; Flying Private, Israel Ocampo, 12-1; Dynamite Bob, Manfredi Guzman, 50-1; Proceed Bee, Rodney Prescott, 12-1.
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