Ohio Derby Horse-by-Horse Preview

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

The Triple Crown is over, but don't expect "Derby" talk to go away anytime soon. The second half of the racing season is packed with rich Derbies in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Virginia, to name just a few locations.

First up is the $500,000 Ohio Derby (gr. III) at Thistledown, which has attracted a couple of Triple Crown veterans dropping in class. Let's take a horse-by-horse look at the field:

#1 Math Wizard: After scoring two wins against claiming company at Gulfstream during the winter, Math Wizard performed reasonably well in a couple of stakes races, rallying to finish fourth in the Wood Memorial (gr. II) before employing stalking tactics to record an identical finish in the Oaklawn Invitational Stakes. Both of those races were held over 1 1/8 miles, the same distance as the Ohio Derby, and Math Wizard posted Beyer speed figures that make him a candidate to finish in the top three on Saturday. Even better? He'll race without blinkers in the Ohio Derby and figures to employ late-running tactics, which should be well-suited to this small but speedy field.

#2 Owendale: The 9-5 morning line favorite has been on a roll as of late, rallying to victory in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland before finishing third by just 1 ¼ lengths in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), making him the only classic-placed runner in the Ohio Derby field. With recent Beyer speed figures in the upper 90s, he's also the fastest horse on paper.

But I do wonder if Owendale's recent form has been enhanced by ideal circumstances. In the Lexington Stakes, he benefited from racing wide on a day when the rail was dead and the track was favoring closers. Then in the Preakness Stakes, a fast pace cooked the front-runners and gave an edge to late runners like Owendale—three of the top five finishers rallied from far behind, including longshot runner-up Everfast, who failed to replicate his Preakness form in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) three weeks later.

This doesn't mean Owendale can't win the Ohio Derby. With three clear speed horses in the field, the pace might be quick enough for Owendale to deliver another fine run. But I'm not sure how much room he has for improvement, and I'm hesitant to back a deep closer who will be favored in a small field.

#3 Long Range Toddy: Although Long Range Toddy was soundly beaten in both the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), I'm tempted to draw a line through those efforts since they came over sloppy, sealed tracks.

If you assume Long Range Toddy just doesn't care for wet going, you can easily make a case for him to rebound in the Ohio Derby. On dry footing, he's never finished out of the superfecta while winning three stakes races, including a division of the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park in March. On that occasion, Long Range Toddy parlayed a clever inside trip into a late-rallying triumph over the highly regarded Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) winner Improbable.

Long Range Toddy competed admirably against tough competition throughout the winter at Oaklawn, and in terms of Beyer speed figures, he's not far behind Owendale. Just as significantly, Long Range Toddy possesses more tactical speed than Owendale and has shown the ability to win from just about any position in a race. Inside, outside, on the pace or off, Long Range Toddy doesn't mind pressing the leaders or settling back in traffic. This versatility should allow Long Range Toddy to rate behind the Ohio Derby pacesetters and get first run turning for home, which could be the only edge he needs to hold off Owendale and spring a mild upset.

#4 Global Campaign: The Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) winner will scratch due to a quarter crack.

#5 Going for Gold: One of two runners representing Ron Paulucci Racing, Going for Gold showed promise in his first two starts sprinting at Laurel Park, losing by a neck and a nose after setting solid fractions. But a trainer switch and a big jump in class and distance for the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) resulted in a last-place finish, and when Going for Gold returned to maiden company for a seven-furlong sprint at Gulfstream, he again finished last after setting the pace. Going for Gold will switch barns again for the Ohio Derby and race in blinkers, which should make him a pace factor, but it could be tough for him to carry his speed 1 1/8 miles against this caliber of competition.

#6 Bethlehem Road: A son of Quality Road out of a Henny Hughes mare, this Dee Curry-trained gelding is 3-for-3 at Parx Racing, scoring sprint victories in maiden and allowance company before stretching out to a mile and 70 yards for the Parx Spring Derby, which he won comfortably by 1 ½ lengths with an 88 Beyer. The problem is, Bethlehem Road has been a one-dimensional speedster so far, and he'll face plenty of pace pressure in the Ohio Derby from Going for Gold and Dare Day. If Bethlehem Road is hounded from the start, especially while stretching out in distance, it could be difficult for him to handle the rise in class.

#7 Dare Day: The second Ron Paolucci runner has shown lots of promise in his first two starts sprinting at Belterra and Thistledown, winning a maiden race by 8 ½ lengths and an allowance event by 7 ½ lengths. Dare Day dominated both races in gate-to-wire fashion, but he was facing small fields of Ohio-breds and never encountered a challenge for early supremacy. He's unlikely to be alone on the lead in the Ohio Derby, and he's also stepping up sharply in class and distance, a tricky combination to overcome.


First: Long Range Toddy
Second: Owendale
Third: Math Wizard

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


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!


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 www.theturfboard.com.

Recent Posts

More Blogs