Battalion Runner Works Toward Florida Derby
Photo: Lauren King
Battalion Runner wins an allowance optional claiming race Feb. 3 at Gulfstream

St. Elias Stable's Battalion Runner, a promising 3-year-old who has yet to be tested in stakes company, continued his march to the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) by working six furlongs March 11 at Palm Beach Downs.

Under exercise rider Nick Bush, the Todd Pletcher-trained Battalion Runner worked in company with Vees Boy. They were both clocked in 1:13 4/5.

"I thought it was a very good work. He finished up well, galloped out strongly on a track that wasn't playing particularly quick," Pletcher said. "He worked in company with Vees Boy, who last ran in a one other-than. He's a good solid workmate."

The son of Unbridled's Song will be making his stakes debut for owners Teresa and Vincent Viola in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby. After finishing second in his career debut at Belmont Park last June, Battalion Runner returned to the races at Gulfstream Park Dec. 31 and made quick work—as evidenced by his winning margin of 8 3/4 lengths—of seven rivals in a seven-furlong maiden special weight. The colt, who was purchased for $700,000 as a yearling at Keeneland, came back to post a comfortable win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Feb. 3.

Saturday's work was Battalion Runner's third since his last race. 

"The main thing we are focused on now is making sure that we do enough with him while he has the added time between races to have him fit and ready to go the mile and the eighth," Pletcher said. "We're trying to keep him fresh and healthy but also we know we have to be ready to go April 1. I think the way he handled the stretch from seven (furlongs) to a mile and a sixteenth encouraged me that he will take that next step forward in distance."

The Florida Derby quickly came into focus after Battalion Runner's most recent win.

"I had some conversations with the connections and we talked through all possible options and different scenarios of running in both the Fountain of the Youth (G2) and the Florida Derby, or the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), or considering one more prep," Pletcher remarked.

"After we talked through all the possible scenarios, we just felt like one more race was correct. We understand the risk if he doesn't run well that he won't have enough (Kentucky Derby) points, and everyone is comfortable with that. If he doesn't run well enough he doesn't need to go on to the Derby. It's more about managing the individual horse and we think he thrives on more space between races. Unbridled's Song's seems to do well in that scenario—we did that with Liam's Map  . (Bob) Baffert has done it successfully with Arrogate." 

Pletcher, who won Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby with Tapwrit, also mentioned the Florida Derby as a possibility for the Violas' Always Dreaming, a horse the couple own in partnership with MeB Racing Stables. Always Dreaming, a son of Bodemeister  , romped in an allowance race at Gulfstream March 4, which came on the heels of a blow-out victory in a maiden event at Tampa in January.

"We also talked about the Florida Derby with Always Dreaming, who came out of the allowance win well, but it's not likely we would run the two of them against each other," said Pletcher, who has won the Florida Derby three times.

"But depending upon the size of the field, we might consider entering them both in case one of them drew an unfavorable post. But that's for down the road, when we have more information about how many starters there might be."

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