A last-to-first rally carried Congruent to a decisive victory in Saturday’s John Battaglia Memorial S. at Turfway Park, stamping the improving gray colt as a potential Kentucky Derby (G1) contender.
Held over 1 1/16 miles, the John Battaglia Memorial serves as a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier worth 20-8-6-4-2 points to the top five finishers. In 2022, John Battaglia fourth-place finisher Rich Strike went on to spring an 80-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby.
A dozen horses faced the starter in the 2023 John Battaglia, with El Camino Real Derby runner-up Gilmore the clear favorite at a shade over 2-1. Bettors weren’t as keen to support Congruent (16-1), winner of the Laurel Futurity on dirt and third in the Kitten’s Joy (G3) on turf. The son of three-time leading North American sire Tapit lacked experience competing over a synthetic track like Turfway’s Tapeta, and he risked a wide trip while breaking from post 12.
But those concerns proved unfounded. Under a patient ride from none other than Rich Strike’s jockey Sonny Leon, Congruent trailed pacesetter American Speed by as many as nine lengths through hot fractions of :22.94 and :45.93. He was still in 10th position with 4 1/2 lengths to gain after six furlongs in 1:11.31.
However, the race complexion shifted quickly as American Speed faded. The hot pace also burned out the pace-tracking runners Eyes On the King and Good Heart plus Gilmore, who advanced to second position after six furlongs. As the speed horses tired, Congruent came swooping past on the far outside to beat fellow closers Scoobie Quando, Bromley, Moon Landing, and Miranda Rights by 3 1/2 lengths.
“Turfway Park is home and I’m so glad to be back,” Leon said. “It’s so exciting to come back home and win this race after Rich Strike ran well in it last year. Tonight, up the backside, (Congruent) was a little keen to go on with things, but I wanted to wait for another two or three furlongs. He was full of run and really opened up late in the stretch.”
Congruent was absolutely full of run down the homestretch, sprinting the final sixteenth of a mile in :05.93 to complete the contest in 1:43.02. Gilmore fared best of the pace players in sixth place, while Eyes On the King, Accident, Aristocracy, Good Heart, Freezing Point, and American Speed trailed the field.
Antonio Sano trains Congruent for the partnership of Tami Bobo and Lugamo Racing Stable. Having displayed an obvious affinity for the Turfway Tapeta, Congruent looms as a logical candidate for the Mar. 25 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway, a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier worth 100-40-30-20-10. Finishing in the top two would all but ensure Congruent a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Earlier in the evening, Kentucky Oaks (G1) contenders tackled one mile in Turfway’s Cincinnati Trophy S., a Road to the Kentucky Oaks qualifier awarding 20-8-6-4-2 to the top five finishers. Botanical was favored at just under even-money after winning maiden and allowance contests racing one mile at Turfway, and the Brad Cox trainee lived up to expectations with a powerful performance.
The early pace of the Cincinnati Trophy was destructive. Longshot B G Warrior bore out at the start and subsequently sprinted away from the field, leading by as many as 5 1/2 lengths through intense fractions of :22.95, :45.69, and 1:10.75. Meanwhile, Botanical patiently rated in third place under jockey Chris Landeros, biding her time until the final quarter-mile. At that point, Botanical unleashed a decisive turn of foot, surging from 5 1/2 lengths behind to 6 1/2 lengths in front at the finish.
“She’s a very talented filly,” Landeros said. “When I saw B G Warrior go out to the lead like that, I just let (Botanical) settle. I had a ton of horse beneath me and had all the confidence in the world in her. I can’t wait to see where she goes next. She’s got a very bright future.”
Racing for the partnership of LNJ Foxwoods and Clearsky Farms, Botanical stopped the clock in a snappy 1:36.51 while Jill Jitterbug, B G Warrior, Bulsara, Miss Peabody, Fun and Feisty, and Moon Magic Chrissy completed the order of finish. The Mar. 25 Bourbonette Oaks racing 1 1/16 miles at Turfway appears ripe for conquest by Botanical, considering she’s now 3-for-3 over the Turfway Tapeta.