By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues on Saturday with
the $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3) at
Thistledown, a 1 1/8-mile test awarding 20 qualification points to the winner.
The Kentucky Derby points are a nice prize, but the Ohio
Derby's main draw is its substantial monetary value. At a time when many stakes
purses are being cut due to the effects of COVID-19, the Ohio Derby—with half a
million dollars on the line—is a lucrative consolation prize for horses who
skipped last week's Belmont Stakes (G1).
As a result, the Ohio Derby has attracted 15 entries, including
reigning champion 2-year-old male #13
Storm the Court (3-1). The son of Court Vision is understandably the 3-1
favorite for two reasons—he's the most accomplished runner in the field, and he's
exiting the toughest races. A front-running winner of the 2019 Breeders' Cup
Juvenile (G1), Storm the Court is dropping down the class ladder after coming
up short against tough company in the San Vicente (G2), San Felipe (G2), and
Arkansas Derby (G1) during the winter and spring.
But is Storm the Court vulnerable at a short price? You
can argue he didn't beat the toughest competition in the Breeders' Cup
Juvenile, considering runner-up Anneau d'Or and third-place finisher Wrecking Crew
failed to threaten in their subsequent graded stakes attempts. And while Storm
the Court has been knocking heads with some fast horses, including Nadal, Honor
A. P., and Nadal, his form has been slipping and he was beaten a dozen lengths when
stretching out over 1 1/8 miles in the Arkansas Derby.
Storm the Court will race without blinkers in the Ohio
Derby, his first time without the headgear since finishing third in the
American Pharoah (G1) prior to the Breeders' Cup. Perhaps the equipment change
will reawaken Storm the Court's competitive spirit, but unless he regains the
tactical speed he demonstrated in the Breeders' Cup, the son of Court Vision
seems destined to endure a wide trip while breaking from post 13.
In short, I have enough questions about Storm the Court's
form to view him as vulnerable at a short price. I feel much the same way about
the other morning line favorites #4
Lebda (7-2) and #3 Rowdy Yates (9-2);
the former has faltered in his two previous Road to the Kentucky Derby forays
and enters off a distant fourth-place effort in the Samba Saudi Derby in Saudi
Arabia, while Lebda is taking a big step up in class after winning the Miracle
Wood Stakes and Private Terms Stakes with modest Beyer and Brisnet speed
As a result, I'm going to think outside the box and play #12 Established (30-1), one of the
longest shots in the field. Yes, he's a 0-for-2 maiden still seeking his first
victory. True, he's drawn almost as wide as Storm the Court. But if Established
actually starts at ten times the price offered by Storm the Court (I have my
doubts), I'll be ready to bet with both fists.
Sold for $400,000 as a yearling, Established is a son of
hot young sire Constitution out of the Bluegrass Cat mare Ithinkisawapudycat,
making Established a half-brother to 2016 Spinaway Stakes (G1) winner Sweet
Loretta. There's plenty of class in Established's pedigree, and he showed
potential in his debut on Mar. 13 at Fair Grounds, rallying from just off the
pace to finish second by 1 1/2 lengths in a 6-furlong sprint.
But Established took a big step forward in his second
start for trainer Michael Stidham. The end result was the same—a runner-up
effort—but by every other metric Established showed substantial improvement.
Facing 11 rivals in a 1-mile maiden race at Churchill Downs, Established vied with
2-1 favorite Per Capita through splits of :22.86, :46.15, and 1:10.69, then fought
on gamely down the homestretch in a tight battle for supremacy. In the end,
Established fell short by a half a length, but he pulled 7 1/2 lengths clear of
the third-place finisher while earning hefty speed figures of 100 (Brisnet) and
It's worth noting Per Capita wasn't your typical maiden
either; the Chad Brown-trained colt had crossed the wire first by two lengths
in his previous run at Gulfstream Park, only to be disqualified for
interference. So Established actually held his own against a promising "winner"
from one of the deepest stables in the country.
From a speed figure perspective, Established is fast enough
to challenge for victory in the Ohio Derby, and the tactical speed he's flashed
should help him work out a clean trip even from the wide draw. Taking all of
this together, I'm optimistic Established can spring a surprise at double-digit
For the exotics, #6
Sprawl (15-1) is worth a close look after rallying to win a 1 1/16-mile
allowance race at Churchill by 2 1/4 lengths, earning competitive speed figures
of 94 (Brisnet) and 89 (Beyer). The son of City Zip is 2-for-2 racing two turns
on dirt and appears to be progressing in the right direction this season for
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
I'll also play around with #1 Dean Martini (20-1), runaway winner of a $50,000 maiden claiming
race traveling 1 1/16 miles at Churchill. Claimed out of that event by Tom
Amoss, Dean Martini returned to finish second behind stakes winner Man in the
Can in a competitive 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Churchill. Amoss wins at a
38% rate with horses running back for the second time after a claim, and Dean
Martini doesn't need much improvement on the speed figure scales to factor at a
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, videographer, voice actor, 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.