The weather today in Kentucky feels nothing like it will-or shall we say hopefully will-in about two months time but Turfway Park will have at least a symbolic feel of spring for the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes. A dozen entered the Battaglia, the last serious local prep for the $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes later this month.
The timing of the 1 1/16-mile Battaglia-just three weeks before the Spiral-is a little close for some but several out-of-town trainers entered to see if their 3-year-olds will handle the Polytrack and move on to the next step, which coincidentally carries a total of 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and 50 to the winner. The Battaglia, perhaps better suited as a prep for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes three weeks after the Spiral, offers no points and just a $75,000 purse.
Mac the Man won the 96ROCK Stakes, formerly known by the more comical name WEBN Frog Stakes and the key prep for the Battaglia, but is not back Saturday. The 96ROCK runner-up, Bye Bye Bernie is and could be favored
Since grass races serve as good preps for Derby preps run on synthetics Palm Beach Stakes Sunday at Gulfstream Park deserves a watch. Ken Ramsey, who makes no bones about trying to get into and win the Derby, will send the Kitten's Joy-sired duo of Charming Kitten and Amen Kitten in the Palm Beach.
Certainly not to be overshadowed by all the Derby-related heats on the East Coast, Santa Anita Park hosts one of the biggest days on the Southern California calendar with the Santa Anita Handicap card that also includes the Las Virgenes Stakes and Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap.
The Big Cap is clearly the race of the day-with Game On Dude, Ron the Greek, Richard's Kid, and others in the field-but two other races on the undercard are intriguing.
First up is the Baffle Stakes, which goes as the fifth at about 6 ½ furlongs on the hillside turf course for 3-year-olds. Two former European-based colts are in the field and both get Lasix for the first time in their debuts for California-based connections. Tiger Day, an English-bred by Tiger Hill, was last in the Group 1 Cran Criterium last October in Italy. Now in the barn of Ben Cecil, Tiger Day was one of Italy's top juveniles last year with three wins in his first four starts at short odds. Horizon Sky, a Duke of Marmalade colt who raced in his native Ireland for David Wachman, is the other import who starts now for Jeff Mullins.
Two races after champion Beholder and Renee's Titan renew their rivalry in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes, 2012 Derby eighth-place finisher Rousing Sermon makes his 2013 debut. Rousing Sermon ran credibly in his four starts after the Derby, including close fourths in the Swaps Stakes and Super Derby.
Another returner worth watching is Mr Commons, who was only three lengths behind eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan and 1 1/2 lengths behind Animal Kingdom when last seen in the Breeders' Cup Mile. He deserves to be favored in the Kilroe despite not being out for four months.
Ron the Greek makes his third cross-country trip in the last 12 months and meets Game On Dude on his home turf to headline the day in the Big Cap. Bill Mott tightened the screws on Ron the Greek all winter long at Payson Park and used the same prep race-the Sunshine Millions Classic-as he did last year prior to winning the Big Cap with the Full Mandate horse.