Great Field Lines Up for Ohio Derby

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") @J_Keelerman

It will be a Triple Crown reunion of sorts in the $500,000 Ohio Derby on Saturday at Thistledown, a race that has drawn six starters from the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Although it’s not technically a graded stakes, there’s no doubt that this race is of that quality in every other sense, and it promises to be one of the best races of the weekend. So without further ado, let’s start handicapping!

Ohio Derby

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Whisket Ticket Martin Pedroza Bob Baffert 1st Illinois Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2 Far Right Ricardo Santana, Jr. Ron Moquett 15th Kentucky Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
3 Thirtysilverpieces Leandro Goncalves Kenneth Marshall 3rd P D J F Stakes (VIDEO)
4 Divining Rod Julien Leparoux Arnaud Delacour 3rd Preakness Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
5 War Story Kent Desormeaux Tom Amoss 16th Kentucky Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
6 Tencendur Manuel Franco George Weaver 17th Kentucky Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
7 Dekabrist Cory Orm Gennadi Dorochenko 8th Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
8 Mr. Z Joe Bravo D. Wayne Lukas 5th Preakness Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
9 Bodhisattva Victor Espinoza Jose Corrales 8th Preakness Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)

A fair amount of speed is entered in the Ohio Derby, with Mr. Z, Bodhisattva, Thirtysilverpieces, and Divining Rod all showing a tendency to race on or near the early lead. This should ensure an honest pace, which should help the chances of morning line favorite Whiskey Ticket. Trained by Bob Baffert, the lightly-raced son of Ghostzapper has only run in two races so far but has won them both, most recently claiming a nose victory in the nine-furlong Illinois Derby (gr. III) at Hawthorne. The runner-up that day, Conquest Curlinate, came back to finish second in both the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) and Plate Trial Stakes, stamping himself as a colt of very good quality. For Whiskey Ticket to have beaten him while making just the second start of his career is very impressive, and Whiskey Ticket’s ability to rate off the early lead could be an asset if the Ohio Derby pace is hot. Drawing the rail isn’t ideal, but with luck, he’ll be able to shift outward if Far Right drops back and Thirtysilverpieces bids for the lead, and from there, Whiskey Ticket should have every chance to win.

Tencendur is probably the "mystery horse" in the field. After turning in uninspiring efforts in the Withers Stakes (gr. III) and Gotham Stakes (gr. III) during the winter at Aqueduct, the colt stepped up dramatically in the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I), finishing second by two lengths while earning a strong Beyer speed figure of 100. But after a 17th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), in which he was beaten 35 lengths, it’s fair to question if the Wood Memorial was a one-race aberration, or if Tencendur can regain that fine form while cutting back in distance and escaping the hype and excitement of the Kentucky Derby. If he were the favorite, I would lean toward playing against him, but if he stays near his morning line price of 8-1, he’s definitely worth consideration for the exotics and/or the win.

Far Right is bound to receive a lot of wagering attention off his late-running victories in the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes (gr. III) during the winter, as well as his runner-up effort behind American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I). But in those races, he took advantage of quick paces to wear down his rivals in the homestretch, and while another quick pace is possible in the Ohio Derby, my gut feeling is that we’ve seen the very best Far Right has to offer, and improvement is unlikely on Saturday. A repeat of his efforts from Arkansas would definitely put him in the mix, but at 9-2, I’ll play against him for the top spot.

One colt I do like that will probably be overlooked is Mr. Z. True, the son of Malibu Moon has lost his last thirteen starts (and lost to Far Right on three occasions in Arkansas), but along the way, he’s turned in some very nice efforts. In particular, I liked his effort in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) last time out. After tracking a quick pace set by American Pharoah, Mr. Z made every effort to get on even terms with the future Triple Crown winner, and got fairly close after six furlongs before retreating to finish fifth. But what was particularly notable about his effort is that he seemed to find a little spark of life in the final furlong, staying within range of fourth-place finish Dortmund and holding off a belated run from Danzig Moon. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas noted after the race that Mr. Z came back with his blinkers filled with mud from the sloppy track, and I think this might explain in part why Mr. Z threw in the towel on the final turn, only to seemingly find a bit more run in the homestretch. In any case, Mr. Z should relish the cutback in distance to 8.5 furlongs, and his ability to settle a length or two off the lead should serve him well if the pace is quick. I think we’re going to see a nice step forward from Mr. Z on Saturday, and I think he has a strong chance to hit the board.

But all of this said, my selection to win the Ohio Derby is Divining Rod. Two starts back, the son of Tapit posted an eye-catching three-length victory in the 8.5-furlong Lexington Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, a race in which he easily defeated a colt named Fame and Power, who has come back to win the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico and finish second in the Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. With this victory under his belt, Divining Rod was entered in the Preakness, where he was the only colt to remotely threaten American Pharoah on the final turn. His big effort did leave him a bit leg-weary in the homestretch, and he lost second place late in the race to Tale of Verve, but all told, I thought his effort in the Preakness was excellent. Now he’s cutting back to the same distance as the Lexington, and drawing post four should allow him to work out a nice trip stalking the pace without losing too much ground. If he runs back to his form from the Lexington, I think he’ll be difficult to beat.

So to recap, I’ll take Divining Rod to win, with great respect to Whiskey Ticket and Mr. Z for the exotics. I’ll also strongly consider Tencendur for the exacta and trifecta if he remains at around 8-1.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Ohio Derby?

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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