Fresh off his fourth Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) victory with Always Dreaming April 1, trainer Todd Pletcher has shored up his contingent for the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) presented by NYRA Bets April 8 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Scratched from the Florida Derby, Battalion Runner was confirmed for the Wood following a half-mile breeze at Palm Beach Downs April 2. The gray colt by Unbridled's Song covered the distance in :49 1/5 under regular jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Battalion Runner is owned by Vincent and Teresa Viola's St. Elias Stable, which also owns an interest in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1)-bound Always Dreaming.
"Part of the strategy was we were trying to keep him and Always Dreaming separated because of the common ownership," Pletcher said. "So it kind of came down to finalizing which race we were ultimately going to end up in. Based on the breeze this morning, we felt like the Wood made the most sense."
Bred by Dell Ridge Farm, the colt was a $700,000 purchase from the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale. Battalion Runner garnered attention when he broke his maiden in gate-to-wire fashion by 8 3/4 lengths Dec. 31 at Gulfstream Park. He followed that effort with a two-turn stretch out in his most recent start, dueling through a 1 1/16-mile optional-claiming contest to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths Feb. 3.
"We feel like he's consistently run well fresh and we've been training all along with either running in the Florida Derby or the following weekend in mind, so hopefully we have him fit enough and ready enough to run his best," Pletcher said.
Bred in Maryland by Country Life Farm, the son of Majestic Warrior closed late in his graded stakes debut to finish second to El Areeb in the Jan. 2 Jerome Stakes (G3). He returned for the Feb. 4 Withers Stakes (G3), traveling wide throughout to finish fourth.
"He's a consistent horse. He tries hard," Pletcher said. "We're hoping that maybe with a more legitimate pace, he'll get a little better run at it. We need him to step up and improve a bit, but we feel like he's a horse that'll handle the distance and, with a little bit of pace setup, might be able to get a piece of it."