03/02/2006 12:00AM

Top four in 12-horse Battaglia all come with question marks

Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Warrior Within wins the WEBN on Feb. 4 with a 96 Beyer Speed Figure. Saturday's John Battaglia Stakes is a tougher assignment.

They all have something good going on, although none of them have it all.

Four 3-year-olds have sufficient credentials to be favored Saturday in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park: Go Bucky Go, Laity, Trailing Twelve, and Warrior Within. All have shown themselves good enough to win the Battaglia and proceed to the logical next step on the Derby trail, the March 25 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway, but they all have some flaws, too.

been impressive in winning 2 of his 3 starts, with his most recent victory coming in a tough entry-level allowance sprint on the Feb. 4 Holy Bull Stakes undercard at Gulfstream Park. But the Elusive Quality colt will be making his stakes debut and his first start beyond seven furlongs while breaking from post 3 in the 1 1/16-mile Battaglia.

(post 2) won the Cradle Stakes last September by 11 3/4 lengths, and in recent weeks he has trained smartly at Gulfstream for Frank Brothers. But in between, Laity was soundly beaten in two graded stakes in Kentucky, and he will have plenty to prove Saturday in his first start in three months.

(post 11) has won 2 of his last 3 starts, all on the inner dirt at Aqueduct, and has made steady progress for trainer Rick Violette during the last two months. But by leaving home to race on the Turfway Polytrack for the first time, the colt is stepping into unknown territory.

(post 7) earned a race-high Beyer Speed Figure of 96 when capturing the local prep for the Battaglia, the Feb. 4 WEBN Stakes. Warrior Within has two wins and a second in three tries over Polytrack, so trainer Speedy Smithwick will ship the colt from his Louisville Trackside base with cautious optimism.

"He's doing beautifully, but obviously this is a tougher race than last time, considering the new horses we'll face," said Smithwick. And as a former $30,000 claimer who isn't even nominated to the Triple Crown, Warrior Within will have to further demonstrate his quality Saturday.

"If he wins again Saturday, we'll certainly look at late-nominating him," said Smithwick, a lifelong horseman and Virginia native who moved to Kentucky from California about 12 years ago.

In all, a full field of 12 3-year-olds was entered in this very well-matched 25th running of the Battaglia, which is carded as the 10th of 12 races on Saturday.

* Turfway-based Brass Hat, winner of the Donn and New Orleans handicaps in his last two starts, will breeze five furlongs between the seventh and eighth races Saturday with regular rider Willie Martinez aboard. Brass Hat runs next in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 25.

* Hall of Fame jockey Steve Cauthen, who has longstanding ties to Turfway, will be at the track Saturday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. to sign copies of "A Place in Kentucky," a CD recently released by Keith Howard, a local musician who also is the head groundskeeper at Turfway. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Disabled Jockeys' Endowment Fund and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.