Moving Toward Florida Derby
Battalion Runner, under the Kentucky Derby radar since winning a February allowance race at Gulfstream Park, continued preparations for the April 1 Florida Derby on Saturday
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 for six furlongs at Palm Beach Downs.
Pletcher, who was a the training center, said, “I thought it was a very good work. 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 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 Dec. 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, 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 Feb. 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 to a mile and a sixteenth encouraged me that he will take that next step forward in distance.”
Pletcher bypassed the Fountain of Youth and other opportunities to wait for the Florida Derby.
“I had some conversations with the connection,s 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 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. Baffert has done it successfully with Arrogate.”
Pletcher also mentioned the Florida Derby as a possibility for Always Dreaming, who has common ownership with Battalion Runner.. The son of Bodemeister romped in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 4. That 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. “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.”
Edited Gulfstream Park release