Kentucky Derby

Battalion Runner Breezes for G1 Florida Derby

Lauren King/Coglianese Photo

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – St. Elias Stable’s Battalion Runner, a promising 3-year-old who has yet to be tested in stakes company, continued his march to the Grade 1, $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby by working six furlongs Saturday at Palm Beach Downs.

Under exercise rider Nick Bush, the Todd Pletcher-trained Battalion Runner worked in company with Vees Boy.  They were both clocked in 1:13.80.

“I thought it was a very good work,” Pletcher said.  “He finished up well, galloped out strongly on a track that wasn’t playing particularly quick.  He worked in company with Vees Boy, who last ran in a one other-than.  He’s a good, solid workmate.”

Battalion Runner, a son of Unbridled’s Song, will be making his stakes debut for owners Teresa and Vinnie Viola in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, which last year produced Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist.  After finishing second in his career debut at Belmont Park last June, Battalion Runner returned to the races at Gulfstream Park on December 31 and made quick work — as evidenced by his winning margin of 8 3/4 lengths — of seven rivals in a seven-furlong maiden special weight.  The colt, who was purchased for $700,000 as a Keeneland yearling, came back to post a comfortable win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park on February 3.

Saturday’s work was Battalion Runner’s third since his last race.

“The main thing we are focused on now is making sure that we do enough with him while he has the added time between races to have him fit and ready to go the mile and the eighth,” Pletcher said.  “We’re trying to keep him fresh and healthy, but also, we know we have to be ready to go April 1.  I think the way he handled the stretch from seven [furlongs] to a mile and a sixteenth encouraged me that he will take that next step forward in distance.”

The Florida Derby quickly came into focus after Battalion Runner’s most recent win.

“I had some conversations with the connections and we talked through all possible options and different scenarios of running in both the Fountain of the Youth and the Florida Derby, or the Tampa Bay Derby, or considering one more prep,” Pletcher remarked.  “After we talked through all the possible scenarios, we just felt like one more race was correct.  We understand the risk if he doesn’t run well, that he won’t have enough [Kentucky Derby] points, and everyone is comfortable with that.  If he doesn’t run well enough, he doesn’t need to go on to the Derby.  It’s more about managing the individual horse, and we think he thrives on more space between races.  Unbridled’s Song’s seems to do well in that scenario — we did that with Liam’s Map.  [Bob] Baffert has done it successfully with Arrogate.”

Pletcher, who won Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby with Tapwrit, also mentioned the Florida Derby as a possibility for the Violas’ Always Dreaming, a horse the couple own in partnership with MeB Racing Stables.  Always Dreaming, a son of Bodemeister, romped in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park March 4, which came on the heels of a blow-out victory in a maiden event at Tampa Bay Downs in January.

“We also talked about the Florida Derby with Always Dreaming, who came out of the allowance win well, but it’s not likely we would run the two of them against each other,” said Pletcher, who has won the Florida Derby three times.  “But, depending upon the size of the field, we might consider entering them both, in case one of them drew an unfavorable post.  But that’s for down the road, when we have more information about how many starters there might be.”

Working at Palm Meadows Training Center Saturday was the undefeated McCraken, who missed the Tampa Bay Derby because of an ankle strain.  The Ian Wilkes-trained McCraken covered a half-mile in 50.20.

Source: Gulfstream Park

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