Who Has the Edge in the Ohio Derby?

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

The post-Triple Crown stakes scene for three-year-olds makes a stop at Thistledown this Saturday for the $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3), a race with a recent roster of winners highlighted by Triple Crown alumni Tawny Port (2022), Owendale (2019), Irap (2017), Mo Tom (2016), and Mr. Z (2015).

This year's Ohio Derby has drawn an eight-horse field featuring only one horse who competed in a Triple Crown race. That one horse is #4 Two Phil's (8-5), who figures to start as a heavy favorite to win this 1 1/8-mile contest.

Two Phil's has shown talent since last year, when he won the Street Sense S. (G3) and Shakopee Juvenile S. during a productive two-year-old campaign. But the son of Hard Spun has blossomed in his last two starts. After dominating the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on Tapeta at Turfway Park by 5 1/4 lengths over three-time Grade 2 winner Major Dude, Two Phil's switched back to dirt for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and ran a giant race to finish second.

"Giant race" arguably understates how well Two Phil's performed. The Kentucky Derby unfolded with hot fractions of :22.35, :45.73, and 1:10.11 which burned out the three early leaders and caused them to finish 16th, 14th, and 13th. Meanwhile, horses rallying from 12th place or farther behind rallied to sweep three of the top four finishing positions, and five of the top seven.

The only forwardly placed runner to crack the superfecta was Two Phil's. After half a mile, he was racing in fourth place, only 1 1/2 lengths off the lead. He was still fourth after six furlongs, then made an early move to lead by 1 1/2 lengths at the top of the stretch. He was ultimately run down by the deep-closing Mage, but Two Phil's finished only one length away from victory and ran every bit as well as the winner given how the pace unfolded.

Two Phil's connections opted to skip the remainder of the Triple Crown and target the Ohio Derby, where Two Phil's looms as a formidable win threat. He's trained strongly since the Kentucky Derby and should be mighty tough to beat while dropping down the class ladder, especially since there isn't a ton of speed in the field and the pace should be more relaxed than in the Kentucky Derby.

#7 Lord Miles (7-2) is another accomplished Ohio Derby entrant, having won the Wood Memorial (G2) by a nose in a three-horse photo finish. But the form of the Wood Memorial hasn't held up especially well, and Lord Miles previously finished off the board in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) and Holy Bull S. (G3), suggesting he's at least a little vulnerable in the Ohio Derby.

A better choice for runner-up honors might be #3 Bishops Bay (3-1), whose trainer—Brad Cox—has won the Ohio Derby twice with Tawny Port and Owendale. In contrast to Lord Miles, the form lines of Bishops Bay look excellent. In his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds, he beat future Lexington S. (G3) winner First Mission by three-quarters of a length. Then, after stretching out to win a two-turn $80,000 allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds, Bishops Bay ran second by a head in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan S. (G3) at Belmont Park. The winner, Arcangelo, came right back to win the Belmont S. (G1).

Bishops Bay has shown speed in all three of his starts and figures to sit a favorable trip setting or pressing a modest pace in the Ohio Derby. From there, a top-two finish should be well within reach.

#8 Hayes Strike (6-1) is another runner worth respecting for the minor awards. The experienced Kenny McPeek trainee has campaigned heavily in the stakes ranks, hitting the board in the Iroquois S. (G3), Street Sense S. (G3), Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2), and Gun Runner S. as a juvenile. More recently, Hayes Strike has sandwiched victories in the Private Terms S. and Texas Derby around a seventh-place finish in the Blue Grass S. (G1).

Hayes Strike might not be Grade 1-caliber, and he doesn't have much in the way of tactical speed, but he finds a spot in the superfecta more often than not and can do so again in the Ohio Derby.


1st: Two Phil's
2nd: Bishops Bay
3rd: Lord Miles
4th: Hayes Strike

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.

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