Susan Moulton's Solitary Ranger set all the pace in Saturday's $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, posting a 4 3/4-length decision under jockey Florent Geroux. Stablemate Poker Player came rolling late to provide trainer Wayne Catalano with a one-two finish in the 1 1/16-mile event.
Overlooked as the 9-1 sixth choice among nine rivals, Solitary Ranger led by a half-length through opening splits in :23 2/5 and :47. He started to pull away on the far turn, reaching the six-furlong mark in 1:12 2/5 with a clear advantage, and widened dramatically entering the stretch drive.
The dark bay son of U S Ranger was up by eight lengths with a furlong remaining and held sway to the finish line, stopping the teletimer in 1:47 1/5 on the Polytrack.
Poker Player, who was favored at 8-5, closed stoutly after being 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. Making his first start since an eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, the Grade 3-winning colt wound up five lengths clear of third-placer Harry's Holiday in a solid effort.
"We kind of figured that's the way the race was going to set up," Catalano said. "(Solitary Ranger'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 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," Geroux said. "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 paid $21.60 to win.
The Battaglia Memorial is the final local prep for Turfway's 1 1/8-mile 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 out of Galileo's Star, whose sire was 1992 Spiral Stakes and Kentucky Derby winner Lil E Tee. From six starts, Solitary Ranger's record now stands at 3-2-0 with earnings of $194,263. After finishing second against maiden special weight rivals in his first two starts on Keeneland's Polytrack, he posted his first win in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity last fall.
Solitary Ranger entered the Battaglia off of a front-running turf allowance score at Fair Grounds on January 5.