Battaglia latest testing ground for Derby-hopeful Concerto Turfway's 1 1/16-mile race challenges Tammaro colt

March 08, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

As the road to the Kentucky Derby gets shorter, the steps the contenders must take become longer. Today, Concerto takes a big step in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park.

Trained by the Laurel-based John J. Tammaro III, Concerto likely will be favored in the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds aiming for a berth in the Triple Crown races.

"What's happening now is that a lot of good horses are surfacing," Tammaro said. "And then you've got a lot more horses looking for a reason to belong. We're in that second group -- kind of looking for a reason to belong."

A Kentucky-bred chestnut by Chief's Crown out of Undeniably, Concerto has never finished worse than third in seven races: four wins, one second and two thirds.

In his past five starts, dating to September at Belmont Park, the colt has lost only once. That was by less than a length to Captain Bodgit, one of the Derby favorites, in the Laurel Futurity last November.

Tammaro sent Concerto to Turfway Park in northern Kentucky nearly two weeks ago to the stable of Michael Tammaro, his brother. He wanted the horse to train on the track and get used to the surroundings.

"This is a step up, a little tougher race than he's been in," John Tammaro said. "But we're planning to win this race."

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has entered two of his second string: Famously Free and Esteemed Friend. And Erv, after finishing second to Concerto in last month's Whirl- away Stakes at Aqueduct Park, is back for a rematch.

A game effort by Concerto would land him next in the $600,000 Jim Beam Stakes on March 29 at Turfway Park. That is a major Derby prep that will attract some of the nation's top 3-year-olds.

One it won't lure is Acceptable. George Steinbrenner owns Acceptable and Concerto, and they won't meet on the road to the Derby.

"I know Mr. Steinbrenner would love to win the Kentucky Derby," Tammaro said. "I think if both horses show they deserve a shot, he would let them both run."

Pub Date: 3/08/97

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