Battalion Runner Flashes His Hand as a Sire via Rudder's Men

Rudder's Men Coglianese

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It might feel a touch trite to repeat it, but the timeworn observation is such for a reason: the stallion market is one packed to the brim with tough customers and salty competition. And it turns out, both literally and metaphorically as evidenced by the recently released Report of Mares Bred. Breeders gravitate to quality and are more frequently turning to tried-and-true sources to find it, or are becoming more demanding of first-year sires before taking the chance.

In an economy where connections are forced to steadily tighten their belts, it's not an unreasonable nor unforeseen response to current trends to ask for more before opening a wallet. Many owners/syndicates with stallions outside of Kentucky usually find themselves among their stallion's chief supporters until the first crop runners make their first impressions.

An example of this would be the case of Ocala Stud's Battalion Runner (Unbridled's Song) and his son, Rudder's Men. Unveiled last Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Belmont The Big A meet for breeder–and sire owner–St. Elias Stable, the dark bay was hard to miss as he sailed through a brisk :22.53 opening quarter while under wraps, and sprinting home to an easy 4 1/4-length score. With the effort, he became Battalion Runner's third winner after Lady Runner and Lightnin Runner. The latter carried her sire's banner into the winner's enclosure Sept. 17 in Charles Town's Rachel's Turn S., his first black-type horse. Not a bad feat for any sire to have his first winner also turn out his first stakes victory, no matter the track.

Battalion Runner's first crop tally? A grand total of nine foals.

“We foaled, raised, and trained Rudder's Men,” said Ocala Stud's general manager David O'Farrell. “He's a runner. When we shipped him up to Todd Pletcher, we all felt that [Rudder's Men] would have to be the one to help carry the load and really give Battalion Runner a chance to come on the scene. We thought he would be better suited running in Florida as a state-bred by a Florida sire, but Todd realized when he got him up there that the horse could run in open company in New York and that's what he did.”

A part of a still-growing legacy from Tamboz (Tapit), Battalion Runner claims a host of accomplished siblings. One of which being a more recent, and easily recognizable name, in GI Preakness-placed Creative Minister (Creative Cause); starting his career at Gulfstream Park before finding himself on the national stage in just his fourth career start.

And it's not just his immediate family, either. Battalion Runner's dam is a full-sister to Tapizar, whose determination en route to victory in the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile–by some genetic magic–was passed on to his offspring. None were more famous than the fabulous Monomoy Girl, who accumulated quite a career crowned by victories in the GI Longines Kentucky Oaks and dual GI Longines Breeders' Cup Distaffs. Tapizar tragically passed away in a stall accident a few weeks before he was scheduled to travel to Japan to begin his 2021 season at Yushun Stallion Station.

However, misfortune has a counter-balance as successes in the pedigree hail notably in the form of Olympio (Naskra), Fun House (Prized), and Cuvee (Carson City), who make appearances deep in Battalion Runner's female line; genetics which still enjoy a long-arching impact on the breed today.

Battalion Runner earns 'TDN Rising Star'-dom in 2016 | Lauren King

On the back of a workman's female family–even before the most recent additions–and as a son of the great Unbridled's Song, the stallion's eye-catching conformation helped him command a princely sum as a Keeneland September yearling in his day; bringing $700,000 from Crupi's New Castle. Racing for the partnership of Teresa Viola Racing Stables and St. Elias Stable, the striking grey overcame such an eventful second career start (winning by over eight lengths after playing bridesmaid on debut) that the effort attracted even the TDN to his side, awarding him the title of 'Rising Star'.

Battalion Runner would duel his way to a second, gutsy victory in his 3-year-old bow in 2017 before traveling north to the Big A for a start in the GII Wood Memorial. The defeated favorite that day by Irish War Cry (Curlin), and finishing ahead of names like Cloud Computing (Maclean's Music) and Mo Town (Uncle Mo), he'd run third three months later in the GIII Dwyer after his connections opted to bypass the GI Kentucky Derby. The winner that day was Practical Joke (Into Mischief).

Unknowingly, the GIII Smarty Jones S. at Parx, where he steadied to fifth, would end up being a career finale; the connections valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful, in their efforts to bring him back from injury.

Then came a curious initial phone call to O'Farrell.

“[St. Elias Stables'] Vinnie [Viola] reached out to me at a time when breeding season was just about under way and said that they'd had Battalion Runner at Crupi's New Castle Farm. They were trying to bring him back, and he just wasn't able to do it.”

He admits that the timing was less than ideal: the stallion register had already been printed, many breeders had already committed their mares, they'd be behind the eight-ball on getting him advertised, and that was only the start.

“I told Vinnie that I just didn't feel that we could do the job he'd expect. He was an awfully nice horse but as a non-stakes winner getting a late start, it would be very tough to get mares to him. With all the expenses of registering, advertising, and so on, I told [the owner] I didn't think [Battalion Runner] would generate enough to pay his way.”

O'Farrell says Viola understood the concerns and the uphill battle his stallion prospect was facing. Such was racing luck; it could be kind but it could also be cruel, and it seemed like Battalion Runner had just missed the favorable side. But like all good sportsmen in the industry, Viola refused to ignore his gut feeling and sometime later, the second call came in to O'Farrell with a counteroffer.

“He said 'You're going to think I'm crazy, but we still have this horse. I know it makes absolutely zero business sense, but would you stand the stallion if I breed a few mares to him? I'll pay the registration fees; I just want to have a little fun with it. I believe in him, I just have a feeling.'…And I was all for it.”

Battalion Runner arrived to his new Florida home and the owner was good to his word, but in a way O'Farrell admitted he wasn't entirely expecting. There would be fillies, yes, but 12 claimed straight from the track as opposed to experienced broodmares. The second challenge to overcome would be the impending end to the season, and getting all covered by a stallion who had never jumped a mare before. It was a tall order, but remarkably, one Battalion Runner rose to. Of his first initial group, 11 caught and nine foals hit the ground; all late, but they were here.

“It was a very unconventional way to start, and market a stallion, but they're having fun with it. And they're being rewarded.”

For everything to navigate through, it might well end up an understatement. The sire currently sits at a 33% win and 11% stakes rate coupled with the fact that, of their eight combined starts, the offspring have won half of them. The chance to become the sire of a multiple stakes winner will come Saturday, Oct. 29 when Lightnin Runner goes to post in the Eleanor Casey Memorial S. at Charles Town. In many aspects, the grey stallion has thrown his hat into a familiar ring; one where Florida breeders carefully and patiently prove their 'eye' for horses is as good as any in the big markets.

Firenze Fire Savages Yaupon in GI Forego | Susie Raisher

As for Rudder's Men, it appears the cliché 'the sky is the limit' runs true. Much like his sire, the colt hails from an active female family. His young dam Unblemished (Speightstown) is a half-sister to the second-busiest stallion in North America; Spendthrift's Yaupon (Uncle Mo). That sibling-turned-sire won the infamous rendition of the GI Forego at Saratoga where rival Firenze Fire (Poseidon's Warrior) chose violence and took to savaging him over gracefully accepting defeat.

A $140,000 Keeneland September graduate–purchased by Crupi's New Castle–the mare is also a half to GII Del Mar Derby and GII Twilight Derby-placed Sawyer's Hill (Spring At Last), who enjoyed a fruitful career as a multiple winner in California. As one of the 12 claims by St. Elias Stable in 2019, she was picked up for $40,000 in a maiden claimer over the Belmont turf, a race in which she finished eighth after breaking through the gate and dumping her rider. For all the chaotic circumstances leading to his arrival, Unblemished's first foal is already showing a lot of promise and so too is the gut feeling Viola could not ignore.

“It's really a passion project of Vinnie's. He raced and campaigned Battalion Runner…the horse is absolutely gorgeous. He's putting a lot of bone on his babies, and I wouldn't be surprised when he has more than one runner. If he gets the chances, he's one who could really make it,” said O'Farrell. “From what we've seen, the St. Elias weanling crop this year is exceptional. He's passing on his good looks, and if they run like anything close to what Rudder's Men is capable of, they're going to be in business for a long time.”

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