A horseplayer who knew how to pick winners

March 06, 2001 6:21 AM
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REMEMBERING A HORSE PLAYER! A 3-year-old named Bonnie Scot won the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stake Saturday at Turfway Park. The winner won big, with ears pricking.

How appropriate. That’s how all of Johnny’s horses won — big! The fact that the winner was also a favorite tells me there might be life after death. Johnny left us in 1981 following open-heart surgery. To most of the world, John was a well-respected and well-liked racetrack general manager. No one was his equal when it came to making an accurate morning line. And when it came to betting on horses, no one had more gusto than John Battaglia.

At the time of his death, John was GM at Latonia Race Course in Florence, Ky. It would later become Turfway Park. Johnny always envisioned that the Northern Kentucky racetrack — about 90 miles north of Churchill Downs — would someday attract horses preparing to run for the roses in the Kentucky Derby. He set up the Spiral Stakes. Little did Johnny know that the Spiral would become a major stepping-stone in the Run for the Roses.

When Bonnie Scot won the Battaglia over the weekend, the 3-year-old Lord Avie gelding earned a berth in the $600,000 Spiral Stakes, which will be contested March 24 at Turfway. When Lil E. Tee won the Derby in 1992, he became the first to have also won the Spiral.

Battaglia was a crackerjack manager. He took plenty of deserved bows for knowing the business and the horseplayer. But what turned him on the most was when someone praised his skill at picking winners. He loved to smoke out a horse from past performances and fire away. When he thought he was right, he went to the bottom of his pocket without hesitation.

In the winners’ circle following Bonnie Scot’s victory was Johnny’s loving family, led by his wife, Nancy. I have a funny feeling Johnny had something to do with the winner paying only $5.40.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE ITALIAN TO LOVE FOOD . . . but it helps!

By now, nearly everyone knows of my love for good groceries. So much so that I take delight in sharing my food fantasies with you. After my recent fling with seafood, I thought my taste buds were in remission.

Wrong! Boy, was I off base. It came back to haunt me the other night at Mama Jo’s on Durango Road. It’s in a shopping center just north of Spring Mountain Road. John Muccio is the chef. It had been a while since my last visit. The waitress told me about some new features on the menu. She started off by mentioning scaparelli.

I stopped her on the spot.

She need go no further as far as I was concerned. The dish is popular in New York, but it’s been scarce in Las Vegas. Scaparelli is made with bone-in chicken, sautéed in plenty of garlic, peppers, onions and potatoes. A balsamic vinegar reduction gives it plenty of zing. It is usually served with veggies. John urged me to try a few raviolis on the side. I did.

If the Colonel thinks he has finger-lickin’ chicken, he hasn’t tried any of Mama Jo’s chicken scaparelli. If you want to tantalize your taste buds, this dish will do it.

Years ago when trips to Mulberry Street in Little Italy were in my bag of tricks, I frequented Angelo’s. Scaparelli was a big attraction there. My pal, the late Con "Scamp" Errico, ate like a bird, except when he ordered scaparelli. His appetite suited him well as a jockey. But scaparelli was his piece de resistance.

Beware, Colonel. Mama Jo’s is cooking up a storm.