I’ll kick off the late-season coverage of three-year olds with a trip to the center of the sports world — and my hometown — of Cleveland, Ohio. On Saturday, Thistledown Racino hosts the Ohio Derby, with a very nice field of twelve and a purse of $300,000. One familiar name from the Triple Crown trail, which, while fun for fans, can help to create value elsewhere. Run now at eight and a half furlongs, it was contested for most of its history at 9 furlongs. Some nice historical winners of the race:
- 1924: Black Gold
- 1979: Smarten
- 1986: Broad Brush
- 1995: Petitionville
- 1996: Skip Away
- 2004: Brass Hat
- 2006: Deputy Glitters
- 2011: Caleb’s Posse
This year’s edition features some very well-bred horses. The race begins with Almost Famous (#4, 7-2) who comes off a decent effort on a hot pace in the Matt Winn Stakes. Popular rider Calvin Borel gets the mount; this horse will certainly get the public’s attention. If he runs anywhere near the race he did off the layoff, he’ll win by open lengths. But that race on May 24 at Churchill Downs stands as an aberration on the PP. Other than that day, Almost Famous has been a good, but not great horse. A good place for visual handicapping, especially if you have notes of his appearance at earlier races. Remember it’s not so much how they look, but how they look compared to their previous appearances. Nevertheless, be wary of a low price on him, especially with this deep field. Jessica’s Star (#9, 4-1) ships in after an impressive performance in the Iowa Derby. He’s done very little wrong in his career, with game efforts on debut and even in the lone turf try. Certainly figures here, and may be overlooked with some of the other names. East Hall (#12, 5-1) arrives after being a warrior through the winter in Florida. He was always a notch below the best and may still be a notch below these. Harry’s Holiday (#5, 8-1) returns to the races for the first time since finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Here’s what I said about him on that day:
Maybe the easiest elimination of all the horses. He does have a win over the track — although it was in a lower-level maiden event. He qualified with a second-place finish in the Spiral, which isn’t that impressive of a prep race, and he’s hasn’t run close to fast enough to win this race. There’s a line between a good longshot (who has flaws but can win) and a bad longshot (who just isn’t fast enough).
I certainly didn’t like him that day, and I don’t feel much better about him today. Seems a notch below these, and he’ll be overbet.
Bump Start (#3, 12/1) under the talented Deshawn Parker makes a step up in class. He’s routed before, but this will be his first route of the three-year old season. Certainly worth a long look by anyone wanting a big price. Cleburne (#7, 12/1) comes in for Dale Romans and Donegal Racing. He’s lightly raced and would need a huge step forward to win here, but this horse has potential to be a good one. Still, I’d sit out one — let him show you on the track first. Mushu (#10, 20-1), Larcenyinmyheart (#1, 15-1) and Avgolemono (#8, 20-1) all carry local hopes. Larcenyinmyheart comes in on a four-race winning streak since the claim and ship to Thistledown. He’d be a great story, but seems unlikely. Mushu could like the stretchout, but would need improvement. Brothersofthetime (#2, 8-1), Saa Mi (#11, 15-1) and Russelin (#6, 10-1) have chances, especially if no one moves forward, but rate outsider chances at best.
1. Does Almost Famous repeat that lifetime best performance? If so, the race is over.
2. Does Cleburne step up off the layoff? He won the Iroquois last year and certainly has reason to be a good one. Has potential to be the best of the bunch. Can he be his best today?
3. Will a local horse hit the board? Mushu is interesting on the stretch-out . Lately, Larcenyinmyheart is a win machine. Could be some nice value underneath for exotics players.
4. How does Bump Start handle the stretch-out? Last race was very nice, but he’d need to move forward yet again. Still could offer some value, especially at high odds.
What I’m thinking of playing:
I expect Almost Famous to take a bunch of money as the post time favorite. I’ll let him beat me, especially at a low price. Jessica’s Star is interesting under David Mello. He always makes a good showing, and might sit right off a hot pace. Anything over 5-1 is nice, which is possible if Harry’s Holiday and Cleburne take money. Bump Start rates a look, but it’s a huge step up in class. Certainly worth looking at above 20-1.
Coverage of the Ohio Derby on @alldayracing on twitter!
Image: Nicholas Eckhart, “Thistledown Racino.” Copyright 2014.