Horses

West Side Bernie looks to boost Derby run at Lane's End

There are few things more vital in this day and age than financial security.

West Side Bernie has it, and it's making life much less stressful for those around him.

With more than $225,000 in graded stakes earnings already in the bank, West Side Bernie is one of the richest 3-year-olds this season.

Thus, while many wanna-be Kentucky Derby contenders are scrambling to get enough of a bankroll to make the 20-horse field, West Side Bernie's connections have the luxury of being able to pick their spots and come up with the most ideal path to the first Saturday in May.

That path has led the son of Bernstein to Turfway Park, where he has been installed as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line for Saturday's Grade II, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes.

Bittel Road, a Grade III winner on turf, was deemed the 5-2 favorite in the field of 12 for the 11⁄8-mile race.

Owned by George and Lori Hall, West Side Bernie has been off the board just once in five career starts and most recently was a late-running third in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes over a speed-favoring Gulfstream Park surface on Jan. 31.

But it was his victory in the Grade III Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway last September and a runner-up effort in the $750,000, Grade III Delta Jackpot Stakes in December that has helped give West Side Bernie his economic cushion.

"I think that him running well in the Louisiana race at Delta Downs gave us enough stakes earnings for me to take my time with this horse," trainer Kelly Breen said on Tuesday. "Some of these horses — you really have to push on. And you have to get them to the peak level whether they're ready or not.

"I think, if he were to run a very impressive race (Saturday), that his next race for me would be the Kentucky Derby. I would not look to run him again, and I think it would help to save him."

West Side Bernie has already demonstrated the versatility often needed on the Derby trail. He's won races on dirt, Polytrack, and around two turns.

West Side Bernie broke his maiden first time out at Monmouth over 1 mile and 70 yards despite stumbling at the start and running very green in the stretch. He then earned a berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after winning the 11⁄16-mile Kentucky Cup Juvenile by three lengths.

West Side Bernie finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup but was only beaten three lengths by eventual 2-year-old champion Midshipman.

"I know he has only had one race this year, but I think that he's ready," said Breen, who trains privately for the Halls. "He has shown me on the track that he's been maturing, and now he is more focused. He's running straight. His head is on straight. I think that he's run against enough elite horses right now to say that he belongs."

West Side Bernie's connections don't want to get too ahead of themselves, but they have made one adjustment in anticipation of a trip to Churchill Downs in May.

Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Edgar Prado will be aboard the colt for the Lane's End Stakes. Prado takes over for Elvis Trujillo, who had ridden the colt in three of his five starts.

"We teamed up with Edgar Prado because I think that we're so close to the Kentucky Derby," Breen said. "Elvis Trujillo is a great jockey, up and coming. But it came down to just the overall experience of Edgar."

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