Derby Runners Stand Out in the Ohio Derby

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

While this week's racing action might be a bit quiet compared to the last couple of weekends at Belmont Park and Churchill Downs, there's still a solid lineup of stakes races scheduled to be run, including the $500,000 Ohio Derby (gr. III) at Thistledown, which includes four horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby. Let's start handicapping!

Ohio Derby (gr. III)

With its purse raised to $500,000 after dipping as low as $100,000 a few years ago, the Ohio Derby has regained Grade 3 status for the 2017 renewal, and the grade-coupled with the large purse-has attracted a quality field of nine three-year-olds.

Even though the Ohio Derby has struggled for the better part of the last decade, it has remained a race that is difficult to win. Each of the last nine Ohio Derby winners had previously contested a Grade 1 race, and four of them-Mo Tom, Mr. Z, Prospective, and Smooth Air-had run in the Kentucky Derby.

With this in mind, it could be wise to focus our attention on Irap, Untrapped, Girvin, and Fast and Accurate, the four Ohio Derby starters that contested the Kentucky Derby. Of the quartet, I'll lean against Fast and Accurate, who is 0-for-2 on dirt, and also Untrapped, whose form suggests that nine furlongs might be a bit farther than he wants to run.

This leaves Irap and Girvin as the two that interest me most. Irap entered the Derby off an upset win in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II), in which he defeated a deep field that included the two-time Grade 1 winner Practical Joke, the Grade 2 winner McCraken, and future Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tapwrit.

In the Kentucky Derby, Irap had a relatively trouble-free trip, settling in sixth early on before steadily fading to finish eighteenth. However, you can make a case that he was racing too wide on a track that was favoring the rail, and by falling farther off the early pace than usual, he might have been out of his comfort zone. A return to pace-pressing tactics in the Ohio Derby could yield a significantly improved performance.

As for Girvin, most of his Derby trouble was of the pre-race variety, as a widely-publicized hoof issue caused him to miss some training before the race. In the Derby itself, Girvin was able to save some ground early on while racing in mid-pack, but got jostled around in traffic on the far turn before finishing thirteenth. Overall, it wasn't an eye-catching effort, but Girvin came into the Derby unbeaten on dirt with late-running wins in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) on his record. Jockey Mike Smith retains the mount, and Smith has been on an incredible roll as of late, going 7-for-13 since June 10th with six of those wins coming in graded stakes victories.

Since Girvin's overall form is more consistent than Irap's, I'm leaning toward Girvin for the top spot, and there's another reason to prefer his chances in the Ohio Derby, and that is the possibility of a fast pace. Loooch Racing has entered three colts in this race, with the late-running Game Over being the most prominent. Game Over is 2-for-2 in his brief career, earning decent Beyer speed figures for victories in a maiden claiming race at Oaklawn and a starter allowance race at Churchill Downs. Both of those were sprints, but Game Over has beaten some good horses and is bred to stretch out, making him an intriguing longshot candidate to hit the board.

The other two Loooch Racing runners, Talk Less and Vibe, have less impressive records, but Vibe recently won a nine-furlong allowance race at Churchill Downs in gate-to-wire fashion, and it wouldn't come as a shock if Vibe is utilized as a pacemaker for his stablemates. This strategy was successfully employed by Loooch Racing in the Charles Town Classic (gr. II) two months ago, in which longshot Cautious Giant carved out a fast pace for stablemates Imperative and War Story, who wound up finishing first and third.

Since Fast and Accurate also figures to race on or near the lead, I believe the Ohio Derby pace will be fairly quick, which could compromise Irap and favor the chances of Girvin. He might be the morning line favorite, but I also believe he's the most likely winner.

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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