By Margaret Ransom
The $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown returns for the 86th time on Saturday and while a lot about the nine-furlong race is different, a lot remains the same.
For the first time, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Buckeye state’s signature event for 3-year-olds will serve as a prep race for the Kentucky Derby (G1) on Set. 5 rather than six weeks after the Run for the Roses (postponed from its original first Saturday in May).
It also offers Road to the Derby points on a 20-8-4-2 basis to the top-four finishers. Which is why an oversubscribed field of 15 was entered, with 2019 juvenile male champion Storm the Court the 3-1 favorite. The maximum field is 14.
Storm the Court, winless in three starts this in 2020, is currently No. 15 on the Derby points leaderboard with 32. A win and he’s right back in the Derby picture.
Also different this year is the fact the race will be held spectator-free and that all participants must wear masks and practice safe social distancing. We’d be hard-pressed, however, to find anyone with objections to these protocols as long as the race happens. Especially Thistledown, located about 15 miles southeast of Cleveland.
What remain the same are the date, the purse and the distance, as well as a continuation of well-known 3-year-olds who have won. Among previous winners are 1924 Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold, who skipped the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and then showed up at Thistledown and won, the filly Paradisical (1935), and stakes winners Traffic Judge, Smarten, Skip Trial, Broad Brush, Lost Code, Majestic Sweep, Skip Away, Frisk Me Now, Milwaukee Brew, Brass Hat, Smooth Air, Caleb’s Posse, Mo Tom, Irap and Owendale a year ago. The list doesn’t read the same way as a classic, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Storm The Court, who drew the No. 13 post and will be ridden by Flavien Prat, hasn’t been able to put it all together this year. But trainer Peter Eurton isn’t giving up and sends out this son of Court Vision for another shot at his first win of 2020.
Storm the Court was most recently a well-beaten sixth in a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1), which followed a third in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) and fourth in the San Vicente (G2). He’s blinkers off here, which may help him settle and relax in the early going. His last work, 6 furlongs in 1:12 at Sana Anita was lights out, and if he shows the talent we’ve all seen from him before he’s got a great shot to win. But will he show it, that’s the big question.
Prat, who has been aboard the colt for all but one career start, makes the journey from California with him and the pair does have some finessing to do from the gate as they’ll be breaking from a far outside post.
Eurton won the 2018 Ohio Derby with Core Beliefs.
Maryland invader Lebda won the Private Terms and the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel earlier this year and makes his first start in 3 ½ months for trainer Claudio Gonzalez. The son of Raison d’Etat is fairly well-traveled, having already started at four tracks along the Eastern seaboard and tests his fifth in his ninth career start. A certifiable pace stalker, he will probably sit behind the speed again and hope to hold on in his first start at the distance. Jockey Alex Cintron will ride again.
Rowdy Yates is one of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s two here and makes his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Feb. 29 Samba Saudi Derby Cup overseas. The Morning Line colt, who will have Tyler Baze aboard, is a multiple Oklahoma-bred stakes winner and takes a big jump up in class here. He’s bred for this distance and a quick pace will help so this one may offer some good value at the window.
Asmussen also sends out Lone Star Park stakes winner Code Runner, a $375,000 son of Honor Code. His only two stakes starts produced very dismal finishes, but his last race gave his conditioner enough confidence to enter him here, which says a lot. Ricardo Feliciano picks up the mount.
South Bend was a promising stakes winner last year, winning the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill before a sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). After a fourth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes back in early January, trainer Stan Hough decided to test the turf for the Algorythims colt five times without winning once, though he did pick up a second and a third in stakes company. Now back on dirt, his connections are hoping for a better result and a return to his old dirt form. Rafael Bejarano will be in the irons.
Other notable runners in the field include stakes winner Soros, who is trained by Gustavo Delgado; and the Bill Mott-trained Sprawl, who won a nice Churchill allowance race a month ago. Beverages are well-represented this year, too, as Dean Martini and Dack Janiel’s will also break from the gate.
It’s going to be warm and humid in the area on Saturday, with highs reaching into the mid-80s. The forecast calls for an 85 percent chance of thunderstorms right at about the 4:22 p.m. ET post time for the race, which has been carded as the afternoon’s eighth.
|1||Dean Martini||20-1||TBD||Tom Amoss||Cairo Prince – Soundwave, by Friends Lake|
|2||Rogue Element||30-1||John McKee||D. Romans||Honor Code – Sweet Success, by Candy Ride|
|3||Rowdy Yates||9-2||Tyler Baze||Steve Asmussen||Morning Line – Spring Station, by Yes It’s True|
|4||Lebda||7-2||Alex Cintron||Claudio Gonzalez||Raison d’Etat – Lenders Way, by Hook and Ladder|
|5||Dack Janiel’s||15-1||Julie Burke||Jack Sisterson||Tonalist – Tennessee Whiskey, by Smart Strike|
|6||Sprawl||15-1||Paco Lopez||Bill Mott||City Zip – Amen Again, by Awesome Again|
|7||Informative||12-1||John Bisono||Uriah St. Lewis||Bodemeister – Lucky Black, by Hard Spun|
|8||Bear Alley||30-1||Gerrardo Corrales||Dale Romans||Will Take Charge – Unbridled Empire, by Empire Maker|
|9||Code Runner||6-1||Ricardo Feliciano||Steve Asmussen||Honor Code – Nereid, by Rock Hard Ten|
|10||South Bend||8-1||Rafael Bejarano||Stan Hough||Algorithms – Sandra’s Rose, by Old Trieste|
|11||Soros||15-1||Luan Machado||Gustavo Delgado||Commissioner – Eastern Ruckus, by Eastern Echo|
|12||Established||30-1||Mitchell Murrill||Michael Stidham||Constitution – Ithinkisawapudycat, by Bluegrass Cat|
|13||Storm the Court||3-1||Flavien Prat||Pete Eurton||Court Vision – My Tejana Storm, by Tejano Run|
|14||Unrighteous||20-1||Deshawn Parker||Todd Pletcher||Violence – Tapit Ten, by Tapit|
|15||Celtic Striker||15-1||Relylu Gutierrez||Raymond Handal||Congrats – Shylock’s Daughter, by Star Dabbler|
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.