Those expecting fireworks reminiscent of his maiden win may have felt a letdown by Battalion Runner’s hard-fought allowance victory on Friday at Gulfstream Park. But with a lightly-raced Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect, it’s all about development, and Battalion Runner fans can take heart in the beneficial role this two-turn debut may play going forward.
Trainer Todd Pletcher had reportedly considered pitching the 8 3/4-length New Year’s Eve maiden winner into Saturday’s Holy Bull (G2). Ultimately a conservative path was chosen for the St. Elias Stable colorbearer. Instead of jumping straight into the cauldron of facing champion Classic Empire in his first try against winners, and around a route of ground, Battalion Runner took that test in an entry-level allowance/optional claimer. It was easier on paper, but not easy at all in the running.
Hammered into 1-5 favoritism, Battalion Runner attended the pace carved out by Beasley through steady fractions of :24.21 and :48.28 on the fast track. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez began to ask Battalion Runner rounding the far turn, and he responded by heading Beasley at the six-furlong mark in 1:12.49.
Beasley, however, wasn’t about to retreat. Instead of deferring to the favorite bearing down on him, the scrappy Beasley dug in along the rail and gave as good as he got. Observers expecting a coronation were treated to a much more interesting swordfight, with Beasley desperately parrying every thrust from Battalion Runner. Eventually the bigger, brawnier colt prevailed. Battalion Runner gained strength inside the final sixteenth and edged 1 1/4 lengths clear, finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.37.
Beaten but unbowed, Beasley crossed the wire 7 3/4 lengths to the good of Painter’s Rags in third. Painter’s Rags had a rough go of it on the clubhouse turn, when racing too freely and having to check off Battalion Runner’s heels. The only other runner to get involved was Silent Decree, who cut the corner into contention but soon gave way to fifth.
You can take two different approaches to Battalion Runner’s workmanlike performance – either knock him down a peg on your Derby list as an overhyped Pletcher, or my preferred view, that this was a means to an end. This kind of eyeball-to-eyeball duel could be just what Battalion Runner needed to toughen him up for the far stiffer battles to come. If so, he can thank Beasley for helping him raise his game.
Second in a troubled debut at Belmont Park June 3, Battalion Runner has now earned $60,600 from his 3-2-1-0 line. Aside from his on-track performance, the gray colt has pedigree appeal. The $700,000 Keeneland September yearling is from the final crop of Unbridled’s Song, and his dam, Tamboz, is a full sister to 2012 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) hero Tapizar. Tamboz, who is also responsible for Grade 2-placed Oceanwave, descends from the further family of Grade 1-winning millionaires Olympio, Pyro, and Paddy O’Prado as well as champion Untapable.