I feel a bit like a broken record as I write the previews for each potential Kentucky Derby horse . This is an obviously talented and well-bred colt from the Todd Pletcher barn that doesn't have enough depth of experience to make him easy to trust. Just like Patch. And Malagacy. Unlike those two, though, at least this colt doesn't have to worry about the curse of Apollo - no colt since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without running as a two year old, but this colt ran twice at two.
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So, is this the young runner who will finally get Pletcher is second Derby win? Or will he underwhelm and disappoint like so many stablemates before him?
Last race: Battalion Runner made his stakes debut in the Wood Memorial, and it was… fine. He went off as the favorite in the eight-horse field, which is a sign of just how respected Pletcher is in New York as much as anything. He got a very good start and set the early pace. He wanted to run, but John Velazquez held him back to set very reasonable early fractions. Irish War Cry, who had been stalking the pace, started to press into the final turn, took the lead at the top of the stretch, and pulled away for an impressive win. Battalion Runner held on nicely, though, and was easily second best. It would have been nice to see this colt put up a bit more of a fight down the stretch, and the final furlong wasn't particularly speedy, but it was still a solid effort, and he outclassed some decent colts in the race. It was solid and would be even easier to like if it wasn't his only career stakes appearance before the Derby.
Prior experience: Battalion Runner started his career way back in June, running in a 5.5 furlong maiden race at Belmont. He ran solidly, well beaten by the winner, but far better than the rest. He needed a long break after that, though, and didn't run again until New Year 's Eve. It was another maiden race, this time at seven furlongs, but it was much more impressive. He started well and never looked back, winning by more than eight lengths. He was very heavily favored in his move up to allowance company in early February. Instead of setting the pace this time he stalked the leader early, before taking the lead entering the final turn and holding on to win by almost two lengths. There wasn't nearly enough depth to the experience, but the last two races were strong.
Trainer: I'm not going to spend too much time picking on Todd Pletcher. Just the highlights - surely you've heard the rest many times before from me and elsewhere. The guy is one of the best trainers on the planet every day of the year but one. That one day, unfortunately, is the day that much of his business is built around. He has entered 45 horses in the Derby - which is ridiculously impressive - but he has only one win. Even considering that he often has as many as five horses in the field at a time, as he could again this year, this just isn't good enough. And it's not like he narrowly misses, either - too often his best and brightest have just flopped. He should be better than this, and one day he might prove that he is, but until that happens it's tough to have a ton of faith in him.
Jockey: John Velazquez has been aboard this horse to date, but Pletcher's top rider won't be riding Battalion Runner in Kentucky. He has his choice of any Pletcher horse he wants in most cases, and he correctly chose to ride Always Dreaming in the Derby. Pletcher hasn't finalized his other riders yet. It's not ideal that a horse as raw as this one will face a rider change here, but Pletcher will attract someone talented and competent, so the horse will be fine.
Breeding: The breeding here is the easiest thing to like about the horse. He is a son of Unbridled's Song, who is in turn a son of Derby winner Unbridled. Unbridled's Song had a very successful career as a sire, with his most successful offspring coming in his last crop in the form of Arrogate, the best horse on the planet right now. Damsire Tapit has been the top sire in North America each of the last three years and has the highest stud fee in the country. He did one better than Battalion Runner and won the Wood Memorial, but he flopped in the Derby. He has not won a Derby yet as a sire, but two sons - Tonalist and Creator - have won the Belmont. There aren't a lot of concerns about this colt's ability to get the Derby distance - just concerns about whether he is ready for this race.
Odds: BetOnline has Battalion Runner at +2500 to win the Derby, which has him behind 12 likely entrants in the Derby field. That seems fair - at least relatively. That's pretty consistent with the final Kentucky Derby future wager, which was held by Churchill Downs before the Wood Memorial - he was 26/2 there, which made him 14th of the 23 listed options.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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