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
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
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
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.