07/06/2017 12:06PM

Dwyer launches Battalion Runner, Practical Joke into second half of season

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Barbara D. Livingston
Battalion Runner returns from a short break Saturday in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Battalion Runner and Practical Joke, both of whom were prominent this year on the Kentucky Derby trail, will finally cross paths Saturday at Belmont Park when they face just three other 3-year-olds in the $400,000 Dwyer Stakes.

Battalion Runner and Practical Joke each finished second in an important Derby prep during the spring, Battalion Runner in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and Practical Joke in the Grade 2 Blue Grass. Only Practical Joke made the Derby field, finishing a tiring fifth, nearly 10 lengths behind winner Always Dreaming. Battalion Runner did make it to Churchill Downs but was withdrawn from consideration for the Derby shortly after his final workout a week before the race.

Both horses were given time to freshen up upon leaving Kentucky and will try to jump-start the second half of their season with big efforts in the Grade 3, one-mile Dwyer.

Battalion Runner has not finished worse than second in four starts. He was an easy maiden winner going seven furlongs in his 2-year-old finale, then stretched out around two turns and captured his entry-level allowance condition to open his 3-year-old campaign. Both victories came at Gulfstream Park.

Battalion Runner set a contested pace before yielding late to Irish War Cry in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial while finishing well in front of Cloud Computing, who used the race as a springboard to his victory in the Preakness. That performance earned Battalion Runner a trip to the Kentucky Derby.

“We weren’t totally satisfied with way he was training at Churchill, so we skipped the Derby,” said Battalion Runner’s trainer, Todd Pletcher. “He’s trained well since he’s been back, and we thought this was the logical place to start him off. He finished a good second in the Wood, and Cloud Computing returning to win the Preakness makes you have to respect the race, while running him at a mile could help us answer some distance questions down the road.”

Practical Joke showed promise right from the start, opening his career with three consecutive victories, including a nose decision over Syndergaard in the Grade 1 Champagne, before ending the year finishing a tiring third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Practical Joke ran well to be second in both the Fountain of Youth and the Blue Grass prior to the Kentucky Derby.

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“The Derby was a little far for him, but the horse really ran well,” said trainer Chad Brown. “We gave him some time after the Derby, trying to put a little weight on him. His latest series of workouts here have been impressive, and obviously it makes a lot of sense to cut him back to a one-turn mile to start back.”

True Timber, second in the Sir Barton at Pimlico on Preakness Day in his most recent start, finished seven lengths behind Battalion Runner when fourth in the Wood Memorial.

Giuseppe the Great continues to move forward with every start for trainer Nick Zito and exits a career-best effort when second behind American Anthem in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens four weeks ago. The Dwyer will be his first start beyond seven furlongs.

Key Contenders

Battalion Runner, by Unbridled’s Song

Last 3 Beyers: 95-91-98

◗ Pletcher expects Battalion Runner and jockey John Velazquez to stalk the pace of True Timber. “In a perfect world, we’d have drawn outside of [True Timber], but Battalion Runner is tactical enough that Johnny should be able to put him in good position,” Pletcher said.

Practical Joke, by Into Mischief

Last 3 Beyers: 89-92-88

◗ He’ll have to carry the high weight of 123 pounds, conceding six to eight pounds to his four rivals, as a result of his victory in the Champagne.