Expert Pick of the Week: John Battaglia Memorial Stakes

Feb 26, 2021 John Mucciolo/

An overflow field of 13 sophomores will travel 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic oval at Turfway Park in Friday’s $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial S. The 2021 Road to the Kentucky Derby event, which is the local prep for the $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on Mar. 27, will reward the top four finishers with qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 basis toward a start in the ‘Run for the Roses’ on May 1.

Grade 1 victor Gretzky the Great received a tricky draw on the rail for his seasonal debut, but he is all class and will be tough to upend with something resembling his top performance. The Mark Casse trainee is the Expert Pick of the Week.

By Nyquist, the three-year-old had an excellent juvenile campaign and will look to build upon that in 2021. He broke his maiden in his second try on the all-weather strip at Woodbine by 4 1/2 lengths, and followed that up with tallies in the Soaring Free S. and Summer S. (G1), both on the lawn. The bay capped off his fine two-year-old stanza with a sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Keeneland.

Gretzky the Great shows six morning drills in preparation of his first local assignment, and he is placed in a logical spot to kickstart his season, as well. The tactical colt is swift from the gate and will avoid traffic problems in the sizable field. He will have sharp local pilot Gerardo Corrales in the silks.

I also feel that Hard Rye Guy is an intriguing longshot at a big number. The Ian Wilkes charge has shown marked improvement while going 2-for-2 on the Turfway Park surface most recently, and his solid turn of foot will play well in a field with a lot of pace signed on. The chestnut son of Hard Spun has never been better and could crash the exotics party with Chris Landeros in the stirrups.

Expert Pick

An exacta with #1 Gretzky the Great on top of #7 Hard Rye Guy in the John Battaglia Memorial S. is the Best Bet of the Week.

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