Seeking an Upset in the Ohio Derby

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

The Ohio Derby at Thistledown has been a significant race for a long time. It was a grade II for more than 30 years and has been won by such notable runners as Skip Away, Broad Brush, Lost Code, King Glorious, and Milwaukee Brew, and although the race has lost some prestige in recent years and is no longer graded, it appears poised to rise again. This year's Ohio Derby will have a purse of $500,000--up from $100,000 just three years ago--and the race has drawn a competitive field of ten three-year-olds, including several graded stakes winners.

The morning line favorite at 5-2 is Mo Tom, whose troubled trips in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and Louisiana Derby (gr. II) were among the major topics of conversation heading into the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). He encountered a bit of trouble again in the Derby but did rally mildly to finish eighth, beaten ten lengths in a respectable performance. He was briefly considered as a possible starter for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), but trainer Tom Amoss noted that Mo Tom had lost some weight coming out of the Derby, and the decision was made to wait for the Ohio Derby instead.

The drop in class from the Kentucky Derby to a listed stakes race is significant and could be just what Mo Tom needs to get back in the winner's circle, but he meets a field with very little speed on paper, and given his tendency to get into traffic trouble, the large field in the Ohio Derby could prove troublesome. He does get a jockey switch to the three-time Eclipse award winner Javier Castellano, and Tom Amoss has hit the board with four of his five starters at the current Thistledown meet, but my gut feeling is that Mo Tom could be vulnerable at a short price and is worth playing against.

My choice to pull off the upset is Wild About Deb, who has kept good company so far in his short career. After finishing second to stakes winner Uncle Lino in a 6 ½-furlong maiden race at Del Mar last November, Wild About Deb returned from a long layoff to win a nine-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita by six lengths over a sloppy, sealed track. The runner-up, Mr. Roary, recently won a stakes race on turf at Santa Anita, while the third-place finisher, Prince of Arabia, broke his maiden in his next start.

Off that impressive performance, Wild About Deb shipped across the country to Belmont Park and cut back to one turn for the nine-furlong Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II), and after settling off the pace, he rallied wide on the outside to finish third, beaten 3 ¼ lengths by Unified and 2 ½ lengths by Governor Malibu. The latter returned to finish fourth despite a troubled trip in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and according to Trakus, Wild About Deb lost so much ground on the turn of the Peter Pan Stakes that he could have won the race with a ground-saving trip. Add in the fact that the Peter Pan featured very fast closing fractions (Wild About Deb ran the final three furlongs in :36 4/5), and I think a case can be made that Wild About Deb's performance was much more impressive than it appears at first glance.

Since the Peter Pan, Wild About Deb has been training at Churchill Downs, where he breezed five furlongs in a quick 1:00 flat on June 12th. He'll need to take a step forward to win the Ohio Derby, but making his third start off a layoff, there's a good chance that he will. With a good trip, I think he can get the jump on Mo Tom and hold him off in the final furlong.

Adventist, fourth in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) and third in three graded stakes races at Aqueduct earlier this year, is a consistent and classy colt that should be a definite contender for the exotics, although I prefer Wild About Deb and Mo Tom for the top spot. Decorated Soldier was fifth in the Peter Pan and never really in the mix for victory, but previously won the one-mile Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn and could rebound for the always-dangerous duo of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez.

But if you're looking for a live longshot, how about Cocked and Loaded? Yes, he's the third choice on the morning line at 4-1, but I think there's a chance that he goes off at significantly higher since he's coming off of poor efforts in his last two races. But one of those races was on turf and the other was the Pat Day Mile (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, in which he got run off his feet over a track that may have been favoring horses racing close to the lead. Last year, he won the 8.5-furlong Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs and finished a solid fifth behind Nyquist in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), beaten just 3 ¾ lengths. He's got enough tactical speed to be forwardly placed, and if a slow pace unfolds, expect to see him near the lead and ready to pounce when the real running begins. For what it's worth, he breezed four furlongs in a bullet :45 3/5 on June 20th at Arlington Park, suggesting that he could show more speed on Saturday, and if he rebounds to his 2015 form, I think he can hit the board at a big price.

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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