Looking for Longshots in the Ohio Derby

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 figures.

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 92 (Beyer).

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 odds.

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 big price.

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.

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