03/13/2016 7:05AM

Surgical Strike rallies to win John Battaglia Memorial

Coady Photography
Surgical Strike, under Orlando Mojica, comes from next-to-last to win the John Battaglia Memorial by 2 1/2 lengths.

Surgical Strike earned the first stakes victory of his career in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial on Saturday night at Turfway Park – but more importantly, he earned experience that will serve him well as he steps into the Kentucky Derby hunt.

“He’s still not quite used to getting dirt in his face,” trainer Ben Colebrook said of Surgical Strike ($8.20), who rallied from next-to-last for the win. “He’s run primarily on turf until these last few starts. I think it’s a very good lesson. If everything goes good, we’ll come back in three weeks.”

The Battaglia is the local prep for the Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral Stakes on April 2. The Spiral offers Kentucky Derby points to the winner on a 50-20-10-5 scale, essentially making it a "win and you're in" event. Surgical Strike, a son of Red Giant, punched his ticket for that attempt with his second victory in eight career starts. He came into Saturday’s race off a third-place finish in the WEBN Stakes last month at Turfway.

Surgical Strike and Orlando Mojica were 11th in the full field of 12 3-year-olds early, about 6 3/4 lengths behind leader Blue Wings as he took the field through a moderate opening half-mile of 48.08 seconds. Surgical Strike began making up ground around the far turn, with Mojica swinging him out to the eight path for clear sailing as he circled the field. 

Whatawonderflworld, sent away as the favorite, had also rallied well on the far turn and briefly made a fight of it in upper stretch before giving way late, with Surgical Strike cruising on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. His final time for the 1 1/16 miles on Turfway’s Polytrack was 1:45.12.

“The speed didn’t go as fast early on as I thought,” said Colebrook, who had a good evening with his 3-year-olds. “He was a little bit farther back than maybe we drew it up. But the horse has a big turn of foot when you cut him loose, so I was never really too worried.”

After Surgical Strike and Whatawonderflworld, it was another 3 3/4 lengths back to Sawyers Mickey, who got up for third after being checked on the backstretch.

Surgical Strike’s late rally lent dramatic material to the final call by Mike Battaglia, Turfway's regular announcer since 1973. The race is named for his late father, the track's general manager in the 1970s. Jimmy McNerney, who will assume regular announcing duties, took over the mic immediately after the race, with Battaglia stepping downstairs to make the trophy presentation with several members of his family. Upon exiting the winner’s circle, he encountered several of the Turfway faithful asking for photos, autographs, and handshakes.

Battaglia will continue to be active in racing, stepping into the new role of associate vice president at Turfway, with a focus on engaging fans and promoting the track to horseplayers. Battaglia, a member of the NBC Sports broadcast team covering major races, will also continue to make the morning lines at Churchill Downs and Keeneland; he is an on-air analyst for the latter track. 

American Doll wins prep for Bourbonette Oaks

 Earlier in the evening, American Doll ($5.60), also trained by Colebrook and ridden by Mojica, won a $25,500 allowance for 3-year-old fillies billed as “the Bourbonette Oaks prep,” turning back La Piba in the stretch to secure a head victory. American Doll, a daughter of Tiznow, completed the mile in 1:39.07 for her third straight victory.

The Grade 3, $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks, the filly counterpart to the Spiral, will also be contested April 2, awarding 50 Kentucky Oaks points to the winner.

“She might be a cut below as far as class, but she’s done nothing wrong,” Colebrook said. “She knows the track. We’ll definitely try.”