Saturday, March 3, 2012 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, Ky., March 3, 2012 – A smart ride and grit at the wire made State of Play best by a head in Saturday's $75,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park. Ill Conceived was second after a gutsy comeback that fell just short. Dynamical was third, 3 1/2 lengths further back. Final time for the 1 1/16-mile race was 1:46.55.
With Stewart Elliott aboard, Ill Conceived was out of the gate first and set a deliberate pace, marking the first quarter in :24.69 and the half in :49.83 as State of Play rated to his outside. Ill Conceived led by a length nearing the quarter pole but suddenly went wide, opening the way for State of Play to come inside, and winning jockey Victor Lebron made the most of the opportunity.
"When I saw Stewart's get the lead, I thought we’d be in good shape," said Lebron. "I was a little worried with his horse going that slow, but it helped me to have an easier pace, so I could finish harder with my horse. His horse was getting out around the second turn and he was fighting with him, so I dug right in to the inside. I got the jump on him and started riding a little earlier than I would have."
State of Play led from the quarter pole and appeared to be putting Ill Conceived away, but the runner-up reached for more and fought back, forcing State of Play to do the same.
"My horse just did not want to lose," said Lebron.
"He's still learning, but I was really pleased to see him battle back," said John Servis, trainer of Ill Conceived. "He ran a great race."
Mr. Prankster, the 4-5 favorite, settled into good position through three-quarters but had no run when running was required and finished fourth. The long shot Posey Rose, hampered by a slipped saddle, completed the short field of 3-year-olds. Phantom Fury was scratched by his trainer.
State of Play was the bettors’ second choice at 2-1 and paid $6, $4.20, and $4.
The John Battaglia Memorial put State of Play back in the winner's circle after off the board finishes in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) in November and the Sam F. Davis Stakes one month ago. A Grade 2 winner in his second start, the With Anticipation Stakes, State of Play now has three wins in five starts and earnings of $166,500. He was bred in Kentucky by Stone Farm and Dell Hancock and is by War Front out of Valeta, by Procida. State of Play is owned by Team Valor International and trained by Graham Motion.
The Battaglia Memorial is the third and final local prep for Turfway'’s Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (G3), itself a prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1). The Battaglia Memorial is named for John Battaglia, who established the Spiral Stakes in 1972 while general manager of Turfway. The trophy was presented by John Battaglia's son Mike Battaglia, industry analyst and Turfway's longtime announcer and oddsmaker.