Photo: John Engelhardt/Pat Lang Photography
Trainer Wayne Catalano saddled two in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park Saturday and watched them come home first and second, with Solitary Ranger setting all the pace to win by 4 3/4 lengths over his hard-closing stablemate Poker Player.
Poker Player, who had the inside post and was favored at 8-5, was more than 18 lengths off the lead at the half-mile mark and still 11 1/2 lengths back at the top of the stretch.
Harry’s Holiday was third, another five lengths back, after being close to the lead but wide through the first six furlongs.
After setting the first two quarters in a lively :23.47 and :47.08, Solitary Ranger got six furlongs in 1:12.43 and finished the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:47.21.
“We kind of figured that’s the way the race was going to set up,” said Catalano. “He’s got speed, we had an inside post, and we were going to take advantage of that. And we also had Poker Player in there, so he was going to keep the pace honest up front, and in the meantime we were going to try to win with both horses. I think Poker Player got a little bit too far out of it.”
The Battaglia Memorial was the 10th race on the card. Horses were already on the track for the ninth race when winning jockey Florent Geroux landed at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport across from the track. Speed was the name of the game from the tarmac to the wire.
“He likes to be on the front end, so he broke sharp, I took advantage of my good post, number two, and he ran good,” said Geroux. “He got a little excited the last sixteenth, but he has a big heart and tries very hard. To me, he is a little more like a sprinter, but he also has a lot of stamina, and he has a huge heart, so he gives everything he’s got.”
Behind Harry’s Holiday came Red River Rising, Laddie Boy, Canzoni, Empower, General Jack, and Chester’s Park. Emmett Park and Kids Rule scratched.
Solitary Ranger was sent off at 9-1 and paid $21.60 to win, $8.40 to place, and $6.60 to show.
The Battaglia Memorial is the final local prep for Turfway’s 1 1/8-mile Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes on March 22, a designated points race for the Kentucky Derby. Asked about bringing his exacta back for the Spiral, Catalano said, “We’re not too sure about the limitations of distance for ‘Solitary.’ We might look to see if we can find something along a mile and a sixteenth. We’ll think about it. They both ran pretty well today.
“It just so happened that they both got ready at the same time, and they had both won on synthetic, and this race was here.”
Regarding Poker Player, Catalano said, “The race here in three weeks would probably be a good race for him, but I’ll talk it over with the Wests (Poker Player’s owners Gary and Mary West). The mile and an eighth, it looks like he’ll take that just fine.”
Harry’s Holiday was eight lengths the best in the first local prep for the Spiral Stakes, the 6 1/2-furlong 96ROCK Stakes, but trainer Mike Maker said it was too soon to know if he would bring him back for the Spiral.
Bred in Kentucky by Richard Forbush and U S Ranger Syndicate, Solitary Ranger is by U S Ranger out of Galileo’s Star, whose sire was 1992 Spiral Stakes and Kentucky Derby winner Lil E Tee. From six starts his record stands now at three wins and two seconds for earnings of $194,263. He has been owned since this third start and first win, the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity, by Susan Moulton.