Triple Crown: Battaglia Stakes picks and analysis

Added as a points race in 2021 for the Kentucky Derby, the John Battaglia Memorial is a 1 1/16-mile route at Turfway Park that offers 20 Kentucky Derby points to the winner and is followed by the 100-points-to-the-winner Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks. 

The Battaglia isn’t seen as a top prep for the most accomplished two-year-olds starting their Derby campaign but already boasts a Derby winner in Rich Strike who ran fourth in this event two years ago. Turfway Park uses a synthetic all weather course which differs from most dirt courses across the country, making this a tougher track to transition to and from for certain horses. But with a field of 12 runners and two also-eligible entries, it has already been proven that a participant in this field can win at Churchill with continued improvement and maturity into their three year old season. 

The 5/2 morning line favorite breaking from the six post, Epic Ride, comes off of a victory in Turfway’s Leonatus Stakes in early February. Trained by John Ennis, this three-year-old colt by Blame-Pick a Time, by Gio Ponti is the only stakes winner of the group and broke his maiden convincingly second time out at Turfway. 

Having some familiarity with this surface helps, as well as no clear distance limitations after being ridden out and lengthening his lead in both wins of his career. In all three of his tries, Epic Ride has been sent to the front, which should be an advantage here against a less accomplished field. 

“Coming out of his maiden win, we were testing the waters to see if he could go two turns because he was pretty quick when he broke his maiden,” Ennis said of his charge’s stakes win. “He handled everything great (in the Leonatus Stakes).”

Still, one of the top trainers in the country in Brad Cox will send three runners to the gate here, as he has had a presence in nearly every North American Derby prep so far this year. Encino begins with 9/2 morning line odds for Cox from the twelve post, but it may be his inside runner in Gettysburg Address who has the best chances here. 

At a lukewarm 6/1, Gettysburg Address has some stakes experience against tougher competition in Churchill’s Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes in October, as well as Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones on New Year’s Day. Despite fourth-place finishes in both, a class drop into this field may lead to some improvement. But he may need some pace to close into to factor into the top finishers. 

Encino may be the one to add to the early pace, recently breaking his maiden in start two with a gate to wire effort at this distance. The recently improving 4/1 Bolt at Midnight has also started to show early speed, finally breaking his maiden in his fifth try in an impressive front-running score for trainer Mick Ruis, Sr.. These will be challenging Epic Ride early but need to take another step forward up into stakes company. 

The only other who has come close in stakes company is Blue Eyed George, breaking directly outside of Epic Ride after failing to run him down in the stretch in the Leonatus. He made a nice move after breaking slow with returning jockey Luan Machado to hit the stretch in second but wasn’t able to find enough momentum to chase down the leader. A bit more forward of a trip and a better break could put Blue Eyed George with the top contenders here, with morning line odds of 6/1 and plenty of hope after being purchased for 200k this past spring as a two-year-old. 

While the pace scenario is always important in these races with greener horses, it may be of greater importance in a larger field that sees five potential entries that have not performed past their maiden tries. With so many stepping up in class, and many others adding distance, the edge may go to experience in this one. But as Rich Strike showed us two years back, a diamond in the rough could emerge as this less heralded group aims towards a shot at the first jewel of the Triple Crown.

The John Bettaglia Memorial Stakes is Turfway’s sixth race on their Saturday card with a post time of 8:25 PM EST.


1. #4 Bolt at Midnight (4-1)

2. #6 Epic Ride (5-2) 

3. #8 Break Out (12-1)

4. #1 Gettysburg Address (6-1)