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.