03/02/2005 12:00AM

Shippers top Battaglia talent

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A pair of ship-ins from south Florida and a Maryland invader will be the three favorites when they try to advance along the Triple Crown on Saturday in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

Ultimate, a Nick Zito-trained colt who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 91 winning a Gulfstream Park maiden race in his second career start Feb. 7, is expected from Florida, as is Magna Graduate, a more experienced colt who ran a distant third behind High Fly in his most recent start, the Jan. 8 Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream.

Joining that duo will be Malibu Moonshine, based at Laurel Park with Maryland training legend King Leatherbury. In his last two starts, Malibu Moonshine won small stakes at Charles Town and Laurel.

Ultimate, owned by Bill Condren and Mike Sherman, finished third in his Jan. 6 debut at Gulfstream before winning a seven-furlong race by eight lengths. Since then, he has had two swift workouts at Gulfstream.

Ultimate is one of nine 3-year-olds Zito has nominated to the March 26 Lane's End Stakes, the Grade 2 race for which the Battaglia serves as the primary prep. At 1 1/16 miles, the Battaglia is a sixteenth-mile shorter than the $500,000 Lane's End.

Magna Graduate, trained by Pat Byrne, has won 2 of 6 starts. He arrived Sunday in Louisville and has been under the care of his former trainer Garry Simms at the Trackside training center.

Malibu Moonshine, a late-running colt by Malibu Moon, has won 4 of 7 starts, with his last start resulting in a 1 3/4-length triumph in the Feb. 5 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel.

Jockey assignments for the Battaglia include Rodney Prescott on Ultimate, Dean Sarvis on Magna Graduate, and Steve Hamilton on Malibu Moonshine.

Turfway's stakes coordinator, Randy Wehrman, said Wednesday that he expects "maybe eight or nine" for the Battaglia, with other probables including Daddy Joe, Interline, and Cat Shaker.

The Battaglia is one of the secondary events on a busy weekend of Kentucky Derby preps, highlighted by the Fountain of Youth and Swale at Gulfstream and Santa Catalina at Santa Anita.

* Jockey Rafael Mojica Jr. enjoyed easily his most productive week since moving to Kentucky last year when he rode 10 winners at Turfway in the five-day span ending Sunday. Mojica, a former longtime regular on the East Coast, won the Valdale Stakes on Brett's Favrette and four allowance races during his hot streak.