By Dick Downey
Wayne Catalano explained his decision to run both Solitary Ranger and Poker Player, one-two in the John Battaglia Memorial, in the Spiral Stakes, and the $550,000 pot has something to do with it.
Solitary Ranger, winner of the Battaglia in front-running fashion, landed on the Spiral probables list early despite prior misgivings expressed by Catalano as to whether he wants to go nine furlongs. On the other end of the spectrum, Catalano waited until the day before entries were drawn to commit to Poker Player.
“Being a $500,000 (actually $550,000) race and a points race, Ms. Susan would rather take a shot at the distance for $500,000 than take a shot at a distance for $100,000,” Catalano said of Solitary Ranger. “We’ll take a shot at it and if everything goes well, he might be OK. I glanced at the race, and it does show that he’s the speed of the race.”
“The 9-1 (odds in the Battaglia) surprised me but not his performance,” Catalano said. “The horse has filled out, matured and is doing very well. I think the race is going to help him.”
Poker Player, favored in the Battaglia, could once again be the shorter price Saturday. He rallied from last, 18 lengths off the lead, to finish a clear second. Improvement second off the layoff on Saturday seems logical for a horse bred to go a distance.
“Poker Player, if he runs like he did last time, the more added ground that he’s going to get, the mile-and-an-eighth, he’s going to appreciate that,” Catalano said.
Poker Player is not the only Harlan’s Holiday colt represented in the Spiral. Harry’s Holiday, the 6 1/2-furlong 96ROCK Stakes winner by eight lengths, finished a well-beaten third in the Battaglia.
“The Battaglia was his first try around two turns,” said co-owner David Koenig of Skychai Racing. “But he went about a mile-and-an-eighth that day because he was so wide. We think he can handle it. If you’re not in it, you can’t win it.”
“He’s versatile,” said John Lynde, assistant to trainer Mike Maker. “He can show speed, but he can sit off the pace too.
“It’s an advantage to walk out of your own barn to race,” Lynde said. “Some of the other horses have done well on Polytrack, but every Polytrack track is a little different. The track has been playing fair, and he’s doing good. He came out of his work very well. He’s on top of his toes right now. He’s a very happy horse.”
The Spiral is worth 85 points in Road to the Kentucky Derby points, with 50 to the winner, 20 to second, 10 to third and five to fourth.