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
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
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
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)
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.
Global Campaign: The Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) winner will
scratch due to a quarter crack.
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.
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.
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
Third: Math Wizard
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Ohio Derby?
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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.