03/01/2012 1:39PM

Turfway: State of Play looks to rebound in Battaglia

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Barbara D. Livingston
State of Play, who ran well on turf early in his career, will try to transfer that good form to Polytrack in Saturday's John Battaglia.

Graham Motion brought a horse to Turfway Park nearly a year ago to see whether he fit in the Kentucky Derby scheme. The answers he got were affirmative, even in May, when Animal Kingdom used a victory in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes as a springboard to become the latest Derby winner.

Motion seems to have lesser ambitions this March with a colt named State of Play, whose seventh-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes four weeks ago would hardly recommend him as a Derby prospect.

“We’re just trying to get back on track with him,” conceded Motion, who this week sent State of Play with assistant Alice Clapham from Tampa to run Saturday in the $75,0000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway in northern Kentucky.

State of Play, with leading jockey Victor Lebron to ride, likely will be favored to rebound in the Battaglia, a 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race that serves as the local prep for the March 24 Spiral. Just five other 3-year-olds will oppose him, with the top challengers being Ill Conceived, Mr. Prankster, and a maiden, Dynamical.

State of Play is owned by Team Valor International, the partnership that teamed with Motion last year to win the Spiral and Derby. State of Play, a son of War Front, began his career in promising fashion last summer by winning a maiden sprint and the With Anticipation, both on the Saratoga turf, before fading to 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November.

Motion then moved State of Play to the Tampa Bay Downs dirt for his 3-year-old debut, and the results were disappointing – although it’s certainly possibly the colt needed the race, as State of Play set the pace before fading down the stretch.

Meanwhile, Ill Conceived is in from Philadelphia for another Derby-winning trainer, John Servis (Smarty Jones, 2004), who said the colt’s trip in his last start, the Jan. 28 Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel Park, was “horrible.” Ill Conceived got his name from a mix-up of mares during breeding season four years ago, and surely that story would become a favorite along the Derby trail if the colt is able to show he belongs with a big performance Saturday.

The Battaglia is named for the late general manager of what then was known as Latonia. His son, Mike, is the longtime Turfway race-caller and always takes part in the family presentation of the winner’s trophy. The race is carded as the 10th of 11 on a Saturday program that starts at 1:10 p.m. Eastern.

TVG will be providing extensive coverage of Turfway throughout the day, with Donna Barton Brothers handling the onsite duties. The Battaglia will go shortly after 5:30.

John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Basically a NW2 Alowance test which Mr Prankster ought to win since he is a NW3.
Tony Milner More than 1 year ago
Marty- I am glad to see this preview of The John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, however, I disagree with your contention that State of Play will "likely be favored" on Saturday. He likely will vie for favoritism with Mr. Prankster, but I can't imagine that one not being sent off as favorite. He impressively won the first two races in Turfway's three year old series, and seemed to improve when stretching out around two turns over Turfway's track. I recognize that Graham Motion is an excellent conditioner who receives great backing at the betting windows, but Mike Maker's receive a lot of those trainer influenced bets, too. He has the leading trainer race wrapped up, winning with a third of his runner's locally. I also feel that the "top challengers" to these top two should have included Phantom Fury, whose best race could put him in the winner's circle. The pace Saturday shouldn't be quite as quick as in The WEBN, which should benefit this one. Ill Conceived's story is a neat one, but he looks like the fifth choice in this six horse field. I was quite disappointed that Turfway cut the purse to The John Battaglia Memorial. I recognize that cuts were needed, however, cutting the purse of the local prep to Turfway's signature race wasn't the right move. Many would agree that The Spiral has become a more important Derby prep than The Tampa Bay Derby. The local prep to that race, The Sam Davis is a graded stakes, in part because Tampa Bay Downs ensured a competitive purse. New York, Louisiana, Florida, California, and Arkansas(because of the split division) all will have more graded preps for the Derby than Kentucky, unless you consider The Derby Trial to be a prep, which it hasn't been for some time. I recognize that Turfway Park is climbing an uphill battle, and the State Legislature is rolling boulders at the track to make that climb more difficult. However, a boost to The Battaglia would be a boost for The Spiral and for Kentucky. The Rushaway is a neat stakes on The Spiral under-card, which usually produces a runner or two for The Lexington, but that race would not become graded even if it's purse were tripled, because it is on the same day as Turfway's main prep. Had Turfway cancelled that race, and combined the two purses, more than six would most likely be starting Saturday. And had Turfway, perhaps with the help of Vinery, offered a bonus to any horse that won The Battaglia, Spiral, and Kentucky Derby, they would have much a better case for obtaining that all important grade, along with the boosted purse. Such a bonus could have lured top horses, such as Hansen, to Turfway this spring. Horse Racing is suffering in Kentucky, New York is quickly vying for our title of "Horse Racing Capital of the World", but steps are needed to keep this race, honoring the man who envisioned The Spiral, from going by the wayside. Yes, I am biased, he was my grandfather.