Picks and Ponderings has kept a close eye trained on the three-year-old points races, but there are none this week. Far be it from us to go on hiatus, though: especially since we're hitting the road this weekend! We're off to Florence, Kentucky, making our maiden voyage to Turfway Park, so follow along with @picksponderings for photos, notes, and updates!
We are keeping up with the three-year-old theme, of course. The feature of the race week is the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, the local prep for next month's Grade 3 Jack Ruby Steaks (née Spiral Stakes).
The race, inaugurated in 1982 and run every year since, takes its name from John Battaglia, a longtime figure in Kentucky horse racing. During his career he served as general manager of both Miles Park and Turfway Park (earlier known as Latonia Race Course), and he established a Kentucky Derby prep at Turfway in 1973. The Battaglia family legacy continues at Turfway today: his son Mike called races there from 1973 through 2016, also doing morning lines and analysis, and now works in the front office of the track. His grandson Bret started in the video room, and has since also set morning line odds and done handicapping and analysis at Turfway as well.
Only once has the winner of the Battaglia gone on to win the major Derby prep at Turfway: Concerto (1997) followed up with a victory in the Jim Beam Stakes (G2). Several recent runnings of the Battaglia have had a local link. Solitary Ranger (2014) won the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) as a juvenile. A year earlier, General Election (2013) would go on spring an upset in the Arlington Classic (G3). Proceed Bee (2009) carried the familiar green and red of owner William Stiritz for trainer Terry Gestes; he finished third in the Lane's End Stakes (G2) at Turfway in his next start, and would go on to win the Hawthorne Derby (G3) later that year.
Race 5: John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the polytrack, post time 8:11pm EST
This race drew quite a bit of speed, with GIANT HONOR, ROAMING UNION, TRUTH BE TOLLED, MAGICALMEISTER, and HERE'S CARLOS all likely to vie for a forward spot. With that in front of him, it looks like just the right spot for ARAWAK to step up for his first stakes victory. The son of Uncle Mo has come from off the pace in all of his recent races, including both of his with rider Julio Garcia in the irons. He has also proven that he can handle Turfway, as he cleared his N1X condition going a flat mile over the same course last out. The son of Uncle Mo has plenty of pedigree to suggest he can stretch out to a mile and a sixteenth, and he has grown up a bit since his only other attempt at the distance, last October in the Bourbon (G3). Finally, ARAWAK goes out for connections you can trust at Turfway: 33% winning trainer Wesley Ward, and his frequent jockey Julio Garcia, himself a hot 13-for-24 (54%) on the meet.
DRIVEN BY HISTORY is another with a proven ability to pass horses, which should serve him in good stead. The son of Two Step Salsa should be fit for the stretch out to two turns: the Battaglia marks his second start off a winter layoff, and he has been training over the deep Tampa Bay Downs track. The key question is the track surface. He was ultra-consistent over the Presque Isle Downs Tapeta at age two, but that form does not always transfer over to other kinds of synthetic, like the Polytrack at Turfway. If DRIVEN BY HISTORY can run as well in Florence as he did in Erie, he could be a major factor late.
Among the speed brigade, ROAMING UNION appeals most. The light came on in a big way for this son of Union Rags on January 18 at Aqueduct; in his seventh career start, he romped by twelve lengths over a maiden special weight field. He clearly has the stamina for this race, as his last three starts have come at nine furlongs and he dials back in trip here. ROAMING UNION also keeps his rider from his big maiden win, as Martin Garcia hops the plane to ride. Of course, there are questions. His seven previous starts have all come on conventional dirt, so he has to prove that he can handle Polytrack. Furthermore, it will not be easy on the front end; GIANT HONOR, at the very least, looks likely to outjump him early. But, ROAMING UNION has a few back lines that suggest that he can stay interested in a race from just off the pace.
#9 ARAWAK (5/1)
#3 DRIVEN BY HISTORY (9/2)
#2 ROAMING UNION (7/2)
Longshot: #4 FAMILY KITTEN (10/1) is still a maiden, and only has two starts underneath him. But, both of those starts came at Turfway Park, and both were solid second-place finishes at a mile against maiden special weight company. He has tables to turn on TRUTH BE TOLLED, who beat him last out, but that day TRUTH BE TOLLED led at every call. Here, there will be more contention for the pace, giving FAMILY KITTEN more to run at. The stretch out from a mile to a mile and a sixteenth should help as well; with Kitten's Joy on the top and a Danehill mare who won at nine furlongs on bottom, he should relish more distance. Finally, the barn merits a vote of confidence: FAMILY KITTEN hails from the barn of Mike Maker, who has been winning at a 25% clip this Turfway meet, and also boasts a solid 21% win rate with horses going first-time blinkers, as FAMILY KITTEN is here.
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