BATTLE OF HASTINGS NOW LOGICAL VA DERBY FAVORITE

Colonial Turf Cup winner Battle of Hastings (GB) will now resume his logical spot as Virginia Derby favorite now that Nicanor is out of the race.

Here’s what the Daily Press had to say:

By Dave Fairbank

Listen to assistant trainer Ral Ayers describe his horse, Battle of Hastings, and it sounds almost as if he’s talking about a bricklayer or a carpenter.

“He’s an honest, blue-collar horse,” Ayers said. “He’s not a standout-looking horse. He just looks like a horse. But he loves his job. We’ve had horses that had more ability, but not many that worked harder or showed up better on race day.”

Battle of Hastings, a 3-year-old English bred, won last month’s Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs and is one of the contenders for Saturday’s $750,000 Virginia Derby — a Grade II stakes race on turf for 3-year-olds and the premier event on the state thoroughbred calendar.

Hastings overcame a sluggish start and a slow early pace to defeat fast-closing Straight Story by a head in last month’s $500,000 Turf Cup. He faces a better, deeper field Saturday.

Three other graded stakes winners are in the 10-horse field, as well as four other horses that have finished in the money in graded stakes races. The top four finishers in the Turf Cup are entered in the 11/4-mile race, scheduled for a 5:59 p.m. post time.

That doesn’t even take into account the early favorite, Nicanor (7-2), a full brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

“It’s a tougher field,” Ayers said, “but I still like our chances.”

Ayers, who assists primary trainer Jeff Mullins, said that little fazes Battle of Hastings, the second favorite at 4-1. He travels well and adapts to all manner of turf courses.

Owner Mike House’s stable is based in California, presently at Hollywood Park. Hastings’ last three races were the Turf Cup here, Churchill Downs in Louisville, where he finished second in the Grade III American Turf Stakes, and at Santa Anita, where he won a $100,000 stakes race.

In four starts this year, Battle of Hastings has three wins and a place and has won more than $440,000. After winning the Turf Cup, he is the only horse eligible to win the Grand Slam of Grass, Colonial Downs’ owner Jeff Jacobs’ pledge of $5 million in purses and bonuses to any horse that wins four turf races: the Turf Cup, the Virginia Derby, the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park and the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

“To be honest, we didn’t know about the Grand Slam and all the bonuses until we got here” for the Turf Cup race, Ayers said. “We were just looking at the purse money. We figured we could race him at Hollywood for $100,000 or come to Virginia for $500,000. Like Mike said, it was pretty much a no-brainer.”

Ayers hopes for what he called “a more honest pace” Saturday than the Turf Cup. He said Battle of Hastings didn’t run his race that day, moving a little earlier than usual. Jockey Tyler Baze steered Hastings to the rail when a hole opened up near the top of the front stretch.

“He could have driven a semi-truck through there,” Ayers said. “He had to take it.”

Ayers stood outside Battle of Hastings’ stall the other day following a morning gallop as the horse playfully nipped at him.

“He’s got a little attitude,” Ayers said. “He thinks he’s somebody, but that’s a good thing. I’d rather him be confident.”