02/04/2012 6:35PM

Tampa Bay: Keneally makes correct call by running maiden Battle Hardened in Sam Davis

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Trainer Eddie Kenneally had to make a choice. Should he run his Kentucky Derby prospect Battle Hardened in a maiden race Saturday at Gulfstream Park or go for important graded stakes money by taking him to Tampa Bay Downs for the $250,000 Sam F. Davis?  

In the end, Kenneally chose wisely, scratching Battle Hardened at Gulfstream to go to Tampa, where the maiden was suddenly a maiden no more after rallying to an impressive 1 1/4-length victory over the multiple stakes winner Prospective in the Grade 3 Sam Davis.   

Battle Hardened had started only three times prior to the Sam Davis, closing out his 2-year-old campaign with a game second-place finish going 1 1/16 miles against maiden special weight company at Gulfstream. 

Battle Hardened, with jockey Julien Leparoux aboard for the first time, raced within easy striking of the pacesetting State of Play for the opening six furlongs. He swung wide to commence his rally entering the stretch, overtook Gulfstream Park Derby winner Reveron approaching the sixteenth pole, edged clear, and held a safe advantage to the end. Prospective, winner of Tampa’s seven-furlong Pasco Stakes in his previous start, was hung extremely wide throughout before surging through the final furlong to best Reveron by a nose to finish second.

Ecabroni, the tepid 7-2 favorite, took up at the break and was never a factor, finishing last in the field of 11 3-year-olds.

Battle Hardened ($11) completed the distance over a fast track in 1:44.58.

“This was a really good bunch of quality horses, but no stars, and that was one reason we decided to take a shot today,” said Kenneally. “We had also entered him in a [maiden race] at Gulfstream today but he’s been training brilliantly and we were happy with how he was coming into the race, so we decided to come here and get some of the big money.”

Kenneally said there’s a good chance he will bring Battle Hardened back to Tampa for the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10. 

“We’ll definitely take a real good look at the Tampa Bay Derby,” said Kenneally. “It’s very likely. He relaxed nicely in the thick of things today. He was in a group of horses in tight and he had plenty of reasons to back out of there if he wanted to, but he showed a little bit of gameness and a little bit of toughness like you want to see going forward to the bigger races down the road.”