6/24/2017 Thistledown Race 8

The Ohio Derby–$500,000 Grade III

1 & 1/8 Miles on Dirt for Three-Year-Olds

Post Time: 2:30 P.M. PST

Analysis by Michael Patricks

Saturday is the 83rd running of the Ohio Derby from Jack Thistledown Racino in North Randall, Ohio.  The Ohio Derby is the clear headliner from the 100-day meeting spanning May 1st through October 21st.  While other racetracks have contracted their race dates or shut their doors entirely, Thistledown race course has gained a second economic wind due to the State of Ohio assenting to the installation of 1,150 video lottery terminals (VLT’s) onsite at Thistledown.  Thanks largely to the merger of gaming and racing Thistledown is able to offer a $500,000 purse as an enticement to Ohio’s most prestigious thoroughbred race.  With the ongoing shrinkage of California’s horse population statewide, it would be ideal to see the powers that be within California’s legislature do everything possible to join horse racing with the Indian tribes in a tribal-state compact.   If other states and racetrack operators can exercise their creative powers to craft legislation towards maintaining financial solvency and can function on a level playing field with respect to incentivized purse distributions, what is hindering the Golden State of California from doing the same?

The Ohio Derby has had some perennial past winners of note: Skip Away in 1996, Wild and Wicked in 2003, Gone Astray in 2009 and Caleb’s Posse in 2011.  Last year’s winner, Mo Tom, finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby at 25/1.  The morning line favorites for this year’s Ohio Derby were big time also-rans in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.  Will the bounce back trend hold true once again in the Ohio Derby; or will there be a completely different variation on the theme?  Let’s break it down:

2-Irap 3/1 ML- Irap was basically eased in the Kentucky Derby after being sent to the post at odds of 41/1. His 18th place finish beaten forty lengths is best viewed as a total one-off, noting that Irish War Cry, Tapwrit and McCraken all got torn to shreds in the Kentucky Derby before bouncing back with big efforts in their next start.  Girvin boosters will send the same excuse up the flag pole as he holds a same or similar alibi to the aforementioned, but Girvin lacks any real value if you’re going hard to the window.  Bottom-lining this, Doug O’Neill likes to ship for the cash and Irap has a nice string of four-consecutive six furlong drills under his belt. As a large and imposing colt by Tiznow, it would stand to reason he will only get better with age and the added flesh on him.  His Blue Grass was fairly startling to many horseplayers but when you think about all the solid horses that were behind him at the finish and combine that with a fresh horse that reunites with the jockey who had his best success with him, to me that combines for the winning formula in this race; Irap gets the call here.

3-Untrapped 9/2 ML- I’m much more in love with his connections than I am with him. Untrapped found himself on the graded stakes scene early this year and was a purse nibbler in Louisiana when finishing behind Girvin and Guest Suite in the Risen Star and LeComte respectively.  His Rebel was okay number-wise, but he was beaten by Malagacy (decided not to run in the Kentucky Derby) and Sonneteer who is still a maiden.  He was basically muscled out of the Arkansas Derby and was sent off as the longest shot in the field of the Kentucky Derby at 58/1 when plugging away for 12th.  His best placings were late last year/early this year and his Beyer speed figures continue to tumble.  Untrapped should show up with a better effort off the layoff and this is a drop to a Grade III event, but his lack of intestinal fortitude on paper is worrisome.  He’s 0-for5 in 2017 for good reason and at 9/2 I just can’t live with him in the hopes that he will turn it around on Saturday; pass.

1-Talk Less 12/1 ML- Something I’ve wished a few of my first dates would have done, this son of Blame arrives in the Ohio Derby with a hat-trick in sight. After being red-tagged for a scant $50,000 off the Gulfstream lawn, this colt migrated north to be fitted for cap and gown at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Youngstown where he cleaned up on straight maidens, racing all over the place like a mad woman’s breakfast.  His jockey/trainer combination is formidable and Talk Less will “do his thing” which has been good enough to land him repeat scores, but the ante is being upped on him for sure.  Talk Less took care of business against allowance runners last time and has the breeding to enter the picture with this ilk but he will have to lift his legs to be within earshot of his more fancied rivals in the homestretch.  Painting him in the most favorable light, it’s difficult to concoct a scenario where Irap and Girvin aren’t able to strap a muzzle on him, thereby silencing his chances; the mute button is firmly pressed.

1a-Vibe 12/1 ML- Kudos to him for digging deep after being headed at Churchill in his previous race. Vibe seems to be feeling it and is coming along nicely as a three-year-old with the move to the Midwest.  Vibe wasn’t much of a factor this winter when racing at Golden Gate and he was pasted by Sorry Erik in a $20,000 claimer at Santa Anita five months ago, losing to that one by a good measure of daylight.  Another new rider will be at the controls in the Ohio Derby but this seems like a real ambitious step up in my estimation.  It’s one thing to imagine him turning the tables on Sorry Erik, for that is plausible given his current form—it’s another thing to imagine him being able to do that AND outrun the other four horses seeking Kentucky Derby exoneration.  If any of the Derby horses fire on Saturday, he’s not getting the chocolates; outsider.

4-Sorry Erik 6/1 ML- He has turned into a real nice claim off trainer Doug O’Neill for Keith Desormeaux. Sorry Erik immediately returned dividends on his $20,000 purchase by taking down an allowance/optional claimer for $75,000 when he was all out to defeat his So Cal brethren.  Three weeks later he drew the 10-hole in a short run to the first turn of the Risen Star and covered more ground than Burke and Wills on that day, taking the overland route in a guided tour of the greater New Orleans sightlines.  Sorry Erik was once again hung out on a limb of the Lousiana Derby five weeks later, straggling to a fifth-place finish at 37/1, well-handled by Girvin in the process.  His brief respite seemed to do the trick as he returned to California with a solid runner-up effort on sod, but now he finds himself atop the high-diving board at the deep end of the pool yet again and though this colt has had his moments, it’s tough to imagine him being the Swiss Army knife needed in order to carve them up late.  Given that he’s a bit one-paced, my handicapping instinct says someone else will outkick him to the wire when it’s go time; best used underneath.

5-Girvin 2/1 ML- He’s been installed as the morning line favorite based on his consecutive Grade II victories in New Orleans and on paper he appears to be the one to beat. Girvin had a professional start to his career while racing at Fair Grounds and did nothing wrong up until April Fools’ Day.  Since then, unfortunately, the joke has been on him.  He was briefly detoured after the Louisiana Derby with a foot ailment and was excused at 22/1 in the Kentucky Derby, despite the presence of Mike Smith who follows the money trail to Ohio, to accompany him yet again on Saturday.  The Girvin skeptics are rising and much of that has to do with who he’s sparred with this spring.  Patch came back to run a respectable third in the Belmont, but Local Hero, Untrapped, Guest Suite and my selection from last week, Excitations, have all come back to be relatively uninspiring.  Trainer Joe Sharp says Girvin is getting over the ground, “really, really good” and he’ll need to step up–instead of stepping back, or even moving laterally in order to take the Ohio Derby.  If Girvin comes with an “axe to grind” mentality then he figures prominent throughout; but if he saunters out of the gate without much sense of urgency, the win tickets with his name and number on them could become confetti by the eighth-pole; Girvin lacks value as a win bet and is likely going to be over bet.

6-Fast and Accurate 8/1 ML- Trying to figure out this horse is the definition of aggravation. Fast and Accurate won like a good thing over the turf course at Gulfstream and then backed it up with his signature moment, an upset win of the Spiral at Turfway Park and the requisite points to enter into the Kentucky Derby.  His connections then spent $200,000 to supplement him as a late nomination (Ouch!) and then watched with despair as he was simply deconstructed in the slop of the Kentucky Derby.  His connections put him back together and aimed for the Arlington Classic on turf, but Fast and Accurate stumbled at the start before making the lead and as the chart caller mentioned, “folded up shop late,” a real nicety when you have made him your well-thought-out selection after putting the time in to appropriately handicap the race.  Now here he comes again on Saturday and I want no part of him.  A local journeymen rider is cast atop his back and I’m sure he’ll be on the “chooch” for as long as he can possibly take them, but I’ll take my chances…pass.

1x-Game Over 12/1 ML- Have to admire his racing spirit as he comes into this undefeated in his two starts, however, this is a very tough assignment in only his third lifetime race. This will be Game Over’s first try around two turns and his first time taking on horses that have not been offered for a tag at some point.  The new barn he’s been transferred to is perennially tough on this circuit and his presence adds some spice to a rarely seen, three-headed entry. Both second place finishers out of the first two starts were next out winners in their follow up races.  I like where he’s at and the arrow on him seems to be pointing upwards.  For those playing vertical tickets, I’d strongly encourage you to include the entry in your lower rungs, although he lacks much needed seasoning on the win end from my vantage point.

7-Hinton 20/1 ML- Has been carefully and conservatively managed along the way in gathering momentum to this big step up on Saturday. Hinton is 3-for-4 lifetime, including two wins at Belterra Park and one win over synthetic at Turfway Park in Kentucky.  For those of you relatively unaware (as I was), or simply at the mercy of my digression, Hinton has been training over the pro-ride surface at Skyfair Training Center located near Louisville.  The facility has been in creation for the better part of 10 years and has been inhabited by respectable horsemen such as: Carl Nafzger, Niall O’Callaghan, Ian Wilkes and Donnie Grego.  Trainer Thomas Drury does not run many horses but clicks at a 22% win rate.  Hinton faced older horses in his second level allowance try last time out and defeated a next out winner in the process, thus adding to his intrigue.  John McKee has been up for each and every start and knows him well–plus in his second start off a layoff you can expect some considerable improvement.  In the world of horse racing there are good and bad 20/1 shots and this son of Candy Ride seems much more like the latter. His trainer wouldn’t run here unless he thought his best was in the offering; here’s your party crasher at a price.

Selections: 2-5-7-1