The Derby Trail makes its first stop at Turfway Park with the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes. This is the local prep for the Jeff Ruby Steaks run three weeks from today. There’s a wide open field of 14, where only 12 will run this evening. Do note that both of the also-eligibles have been scratched from this race. The favorite is Gilmore (#3), who was previously trained by Bob Baffert. He’s since been transferred to Brendan Walsh after shipping across the country last week. He was a game second in the El Camino Real Derby three weeks ago at Golden Gate Fields. Post time for this race is 9:25 PM (ET).
Turfway Park, Saturday 3/4/23, Race 8: The $150K John Battaglia Memorial Stakes
40 Total Derby points (20/8/6/4/2)
1 – Good Heart (20-1 ML): He’ll be making his first start since the end of November tonight for Brendan Walsh. He was a nice looking debut winner going one mile on the turf at Kentucky Downs in September. He was awful in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity on the dirt at Keeneland, finishing last of 14 that day. He went back to the turf, running in a two turn race for the first time where he again faded badly. Perhaps he’s giving off good vibes in the mornings while really taking to the synthetic surface. However, he’s going to be tough for me to use here.
2 – Aristocracy (8-1 ML): He’s the first of two runners that Brad Cox will be sending out this evening. He was a winner on debut when racing on dirt at Keeneland with $150K maiden claimers back in October. He followed that effort up with a come from behind win on this oval on New Year’s Day. Fernando De La Cruz picks up the mount, and he has a 26% strike rate when racing for Cox at Turfway. He has a live look, but I feel like 8-1 is a little light.
3 – Gilmore (3-1 ML): We saw this one run well to be second in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate three weeks ago. The SF Racing, Starlight Racing, and Madaket conglomerate has moved this one from Bob Baffert’s barn to Brendan Walsh’s in hopes of gaining entry to the Derby via the synthetic route. I thought his last race, which was his first on the Tapeta, was strong, closing well late along the rail to be second. He had a nice blowout work last week in his first recorded drill over the local oval. He’s a contender in this race, but I’m not sure I want to take 3-1 or lower on anyone here.
4 – Scoobie Quando (6-1 ML): Ben Colebrook showed a lot of confidence in this horse when entering him in the Turfway Prevue as a first time starter, and clearly the word was out that this horse could run a bit, as a was a winner at 7-5 in the wagering. He stretched out to two turns for his next start, running a solid second place while navigating a wide trip. He has been the only winner at this meet for Colebrook thus far and I think he’s eligible to move up off his last race while getting a post position tonight. I think he’s a player in this race.
5 – Accident (30-1 ML): The lone maiden in this group is making his 16th career start tonight. He has earned over $137K on the racetrack, so despite never getting his picture taken, he has been a useful gelding. He only cost $3K at the Fasig-Tipton Sale in October of 2021, so he’s also been quite a bargain. That being said, he hasn’t shown enough growth on the track to make me believe that he can contend with this field to win. He could be a horse that you could toss in at the very bottom of the vertical exotics and hope that he gets the right trip.
6 – American Speed (6-1 ML): The shorter price of the two Brad Cox runners was the runner-up in the Leonatus Stakes here back in January. That was his first start for Cox after starting his career with Rodolphe Brisset. Chris Landeros typically rides first call for Cox at Turfway, so he seemingly chose this runner over Aristocracy. He’s another runner that certainly has a chance, but I’ll be trying to beat him in this spot.
7 – Eyes on the King (15-1 ML): He is one of two runners that Mark Casse is going to send out. He ran very well back in November on the Tapeta at Gulfstream when going 1 mile and 70 yards that day. That race was by far his best effort. He came back to the main track and he floundered in the Mucho Macho Stakes, also at Gulfstream. Blinkers go on today and I’m thinking that Brian Hernandez might be offensive minded by trying to get him to the lead before they hit that first turn. He has the look of a horse that might be undervalued in this race.
8 – Miranda Rights (8-1 ML): The other Casse is the more accomplished horse in the barn right now. He has six career starts and he’s finished in the money in all of them. He has only one win, so this son of Constitution might be better suited for underneath in the vertical exotics. He ran on well to be third last out despite some trouble going into the first turn. His versatility should serve him well in this spot tonight.
9 – Freezing Point (12-1 ML): This son of Frosted was the horse that trainer Joe Lejzerowicz trained in 2022. He lost his first two starts, but he did break through in a restricted maiden special weight race back in November. He’s been unraced since so this feels like a strange spot to start his 2023 campaign. I feel like the 12-1 morning line feels way too low, almost to a point where I’m wondering if there is some buzz around this one. If his odds float up, it tells me the morning line is likely off, but if he hovers around that number, I might be inclined to toss him on a few little tickets as a saver.
10 – Bromley (5-1 ML): Paulo Lobo and OXO Equine sent him to the Fair Grounds in January to try graded stakes company on the dirt. He was a well-beaten 5th that afternoon, over 20 lengths behind Instant Coffee. He ran well on this course in a sprint two starts back, so there’s reason to believe he could improve here. However, he has a less than ideal post, and I’m not sure how far he wants to go.
11 – Moon Landing (12-1 ML): He’s a longshot that makes a lot of sense to me, while making his third career start. Kevin Attard is a Canadian based trainer that won 20% of his races in 2022, with most of them coming on the all-weather surface. This son of Nyquist was a winner on debut at Woodbine when going 6 and ½ furlongs on debut. He shipped to South Florida where he ran in a N1X allowance race on the turf at 7 and ½ furlongs there. He broke slow, but moved well late to get up for 4th. I think he can handle the longer distance and he’s run well on this type of track before. The outside draw doesn’t concern me for the race that he wants to run. He’ll be my pick here.
12 – Congruent (10-1): The winner of the off the turf Laurel Futurity will make his 9th career start tonight. He gets Kentucky Derby winner rider, Sonny Leon, to pilot him for the first time. His three turf races in stakes company at Gulfstream weren’t bad, but he was not quite as good as the others in those races. He’ll make his first start on the synthetic course this evening, while also getting the far outside post. He’s battle tested, but there’s enough unknowns to lead me to look in another direction.
The Verdict: 11-4-3
This is another wide-open Derby Prep race that is a really good betting race. That has been the theme this weekend with the four races that offer Derby points. I landed on Moon Landing (#11) as the top pick. He was a strong winner on debut at Woodbine and his second career start on the turf was better than it looks on paper. This barn wins a ton of races on synthetic in Canada, but his name might not be completely familiar with American horseplayers, which could result in better value.
Scoobie Quando (#4) is another runner that has impressed me. He was a winner in stakes company when he made his debut, going off as a heavy favorite. Perhaps that spoke to the quality of that field, but he ran a strong race and had to work hard for the win. He was second in his first two turn test while breaking from a wide post and subsequently, getting a wide trip. I’m looking for a better outing from him today.
Gilmore (#3) is the favorite on the morning line in this race, shipping in from the West Coast. He ran a strong race in the El Camino Real Derby, which was a better field than this. The climate here is different, which could create differences in the surfaces, so that is something that bears watching. He did work well here at the beginning of the week.
We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.
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