The John Battaglia Memorial isn’t one of your A-list Kentucky Derby preps. It’s probably not a B-lister either. But the status trip down the alphabet got a boost with the presence of Grade 2 Bourbon Stakes winner Tiz the Bomb.

Tiz the Bomb-Battaglia
With this Grade 2 Bourbon Stakes win on the resume, Tiz the Bomb is the class of Saturday’s John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park. (Image: Keeneland/Coady Photography)

Tiz the Bomb headlines an oversubscribed 14-colt-and-gelding field in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile trek around Turfway Park’s Tapeta surface. It serves as the prep for the April 2 Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks, the marquee race for Turfway Park’s Winter Meet.

That said, don’t expect to see Tiz the Bomb — clearly the class of this field — saddled up the first Saturday in May down the road at Churchill Downs. Trainer Kenny McPeek said last month he plans running Tiz the Bomb in the 2,000 Guineas April 30 at Newmarket and then, at the storied Epsom Derby June 4.

McPeek entered Tiz the Bomb in the Battaglia to get him ready for those UK tests. He also wants the son of Hit it a Bomb to forget what happened in last month’s Grade 3 Holy Bull.

Tiz the Bomb bombed in the Holy Bull

Tiz the Bomb came into that race riding high: two wins and a second in his three previous starts. That included victories in the Bourbon at Keeneland and the Juvenile Mile at Kentucky Downs. It also included that runner-up finish to Modern Games in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

McPeek decided to give his turf terror a crack at dirt in the Holy Bull. Tiz the Bomb responded with a dismal seventh: 20 1/4 lengths behind winner White Abarrio. The trip notes read Tiz the Bomb “raced two wide and out of contention early, and had no apparent mishaps.”

That told McPeek all he needed to know about Tiz the Bomb. Even though he broke his maiden on dirt at Ellis Park last July, dirt isn’t in his future.

McPeek learned a lesson

“He didn’t handle the dirt in his face in his last race,” McPeek told Thoroughbred Daily News. “He’s a really talented colt, but he didn’t handle the kickback. Considering the fact that I have other Kentucky Derby prospects, there’s no sense kidding ourselves and trying to force a round peg into a square hole with this horse. If he’s a grass horse, he’s a grass horse.”

This isn’t the first time McPeek eyed the other side of the Atlantic for one of his charges. Two years ago, he seriously pondered sending Swiss Skydiver to the 1,000 Guineas. But he scrubbed that plan because the logistics of sending his filly to the UK in the early depths of the pandemic were too imposing.

Back in 2004, McPeek sent Hard Buck to the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot. He finished second.

Yes, he’s your Battaglia favorite

Tiz the Bomb is the 5/2 morning line favorite for the Battaglia, named after Turfway Park’s late general manager and the father of Churchill Downs morning-line author Mike Battaglia.

“I want to get his confidence back and I think the Battaglia is a good spot to do that,” McPeek said. “He was a little shook up after the race in Florida. He was a little confused. It was adversity that he had never had to experience. I think the Battaglia is a good race to get his mind back on track.”