Betting the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes as Derby Trail Stops at Turfway

Horses break out of the starting gate at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. (Coady Photography)

The Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve makes a stop in Florence, Ky., on Friday night as Turfway Park hosts the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race on the synthetic main track.

The Battaglia drew a full field of 12, plus one also-eligible entrant, in search of Kentucky Derby qualifying points. The winner will receive 10 points toward a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

Most eyes will gravitate toward the inside post and Gretzky the Great (#1). Trained by Mark Casse, he’s the classiest member of the field, having won the Grade 1 Summer Stakes on the grass at Woodbine last fall. He next finished sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America in his final start as a 2-year-old.

Gretzky the Great makes his first start of 2021 in the Battaglia and is one of only three entrants with a stakes win to his credit. The other stakes winners are Catman (#11), winner of the Laurel Futurity last fall, and Pico d’Oro (#6), winner of the Runhappy Juvenile Stakes last August at Ellis Park.

From a fan perspective, Gretzky the Great is the one to watch; he’s the only one in the field at this point who can be considered a bona-fide Derby contender. However, taking horses at low odds in their first start off a layoff is not usually a great wagering proposition. Gretzky the Great is coming off a 112-day break, and only one horse in the field has had more time off since his last start. Because of this, it might be worth trying to beat Gretzky the Great.

Many of the horses in here have had success at the current Turfway Park meet, and one, in particular, worth pointing out is Hush of a Storm (#8) for trainer William Morey. He broke his maiden impressively on this track on Dec. 19, stalking the pace and drawing off to a 5 ½-length win. In his next start, a first-level allowance race, he rallied from behind after a slow pace and wore down the leaders for the win. He’s already proven at two turns and on this track, and Hush of a Storm looks to be rounding into top form at the right time. He’s also Triple Crown-nominated, suggesting that his connections think he’s a legitimately good horse

Brad Cox is already loaded with Derby prospects and will look to add another contender to his list here. Kinetic Sky (#5), also a Triple Crown nominee, ships to Turfway from Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He took a big step forward in his 3-year-old debut, breaking his maiden going two turns on dirt by three lengths. This is his first start on a synthetic track, in contrast to many of his opponents who have a win on this surface, but he’s coming into the race with improving form and merits serious consideration in this field.

Another recent maiden-breaker who looks interesting as a longshot possibility is Fort Moultrie (#9), who earned a breakthrough victory at 31-1 odds in his second race Feb. 5. He prevailed after a stretch battle and improved his speed figure sharply from his debut, when he finished a nonthreatening seventh. His Equibase Speed Figure of 88 from his maiden win is the third-best, last-out number in the field. If you’re looking for a price in this race, he’s the one.

Wesley Ward has a contender in the race, but he’s going to be dependent on the early pace. Like the King (#4) earned a big speed figure last out, winning a first-level allowance by 3 ½ lengths. He got a very easy trip in that race, setting a slow pace and drawing off. It’s possible that he can get a trip like that again but there is a speed horse, Twirling Mamba (#3), drawn to his direct inside. If Like the King can outrun his rival and get to the rail before the first turn, he’s going to be able to set another slow pace and could leave the rest of them reeling in his wake.


#8 Hush of a Storm

#5 Kinetic Sky

#1 Gretzky the Great

#9 Fort Moultrie

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