Another Kentucky Derby prep race, another Todd Pletcher trainee deemed the one to beat.
Though he might not be in the same ranks as his higher-profiled stablemates, Grade III winner Connemara is the latest Pletcher horse to have the target on his back. The son of Giant's Causeway was made the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the 10-horse field for Saturday's Grade II, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park.
With more than a month to go until the Kentucky Derby, Pletcher already has a handful of top candidates in graded-stakes winners Eskendereya, Rule, Super Saver, Interactif, and Discreetly Mine.
So strong is the latest edition of the "Todd Squad" that even if Connemara wins the 11⁄8-mile Lane's End, his four-time Eclipse Award winning trainer may keep him out of the Derby.
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"We're not ruling out the Derby for him, but we're really not looking beyond this race," Pletcher said. "He has trained on dirt and turf, but synthetics seem to be his preferred surface. If he does well, whether he goes in the Derby would probably depend more on how he did training at Churchill following the race."
Owned by the partnership of Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, Connemara has won three of four career starts with his lone loss coming to fellow Lane's End contender Ranger Heartley in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Jan. 16.
Connemara was able to use his come-from-behind style to turn the tables on Ranger Heartley in winning the Grade III El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 20 and does own a win over the Turfway surface, having broken his maiden at the Florence track by 5 lengths last Oct. 4.
"He liked the track at Turfway when he broke his maiden, so this looks like a good spot for him," said Pletcher, who will also be represented by Doubles Partner in the Lane's End.
Connemara, the only graded-stakes winner in the Lane's End field, will break from the rail.
The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Northern Giant was made the 5-1 co-second choice in the field along with Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Dean's Kitten.
Northern Giant took six tries to break his maiden before winning by 111/4 lengths at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 4 and was most recently third behind Discreetly Mine in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 20.
"We had two options, the Louisiana Derby or Lane's End," Lukas said. "We thought he ran well enough in the Risen Star to merit trying this race. The only gray area is the synthetic surface."
Lane's End Stakes
When: Saturday, 5:12 p.m.
Where: Turfway Park For: 3-year-olds
Distance: 11⁄8 miles Grade: II
Purse: $500,000 TV: USA
PP Horse Jockey Odds
1 Connemara R. Baze 9-5
2 Doubles Partner DeCarlo 10-1
3 Chief Counsel Torres 12-1
4 Kettle River Lopez 8-1
5 Ranger Heartley M. Baze 6-1
6 Outlaw Man Solis 8-1
7 Northern Giant Borel 5-1
8 Letsgetitonmon McKee 20-1
9 Dean's Kitten Velasquez 5-1
10 Vow to Wager Lebron 20-1
Trainers: 1-Todd Pletcher; 2-Pletcher; 3-Bill Mott; 4-Eoin Harty; 5-John Sadler; 6-Ken McPeek; 7-D. Wayne Lukas; 8-Steve Asmussen; 9-Mike Maker; 10-Dale Romans.