Almost Famous breaks from post 4 in the Ohio Derby.

Almost Famous breaks from post 4 in the Ohio Derby.

Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs

Purse Increase Lures 12 to Ohio Derby

With a $300,000 purse, the 1 1/16-mile race has lured several top-class 3-year-olds.

With a significant purse boost to $300,000, the once-prestigious Ohio Derby at ThistleDown Racino has taken a step in the right direction in returning to the days when Lost Code, Broad Brush, Skip Away, Milwaukee Brew , and Smarten graced the winner's circle.

After virtually disappearing into obscurity and losing graded status, the listed race has made a comeback, thanks to the purse increase. A huge effort on July 19 from several of the 12 entered could propel  them into the Travers Stakes (gr. I) in five weeks.

"This year's field of horses is the most impressive we've seen in more than a decade at ThistleDown," said Patrick Ellsworth, racing secretary at Thistledown. "By tripling the purse to $300,000 this year, we have attracted a higher caliber of horse and jockey to our signature race, making this year even more exciting."

While the Ohio Derby, now run at 1 1/16 miles, is far from a star-studded field, it did attract several 3-year-olds with excellent stakes credentials.

Among those vying for favoritism are Almost Famous, the likely choice who is coming off a third-place finish in the Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III) and a seven-length allowance romp at Churchill Downs, and Jessica's Star, winner of the Iowa Derby (gr. III) last out who is on a three-race winning streak.

East Hall, a fast-closing fourth in the Besilu Stables' Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), has placed in four stakes this year including a strong third behind General a Rod  and Wildcat Red  in the Gulfstream Park Derby. Harry's Holiday was beaten a nose by We Miss Artie  in the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) and a troubled 16th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). 

Others of note include Cleburne, winner of the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs last year and third in this year's Calder Derby; Russellin, a solid fourth in the Iowa Derby and second in Golden Circle Stakes at Prairie Meadows; and Brothersofthetime, third in the Swale Stakes (gr. II) this year and winner of the Seacliff Stakes at Calder Casino & Race Course last year.

Almost Famous, owned by Chuck and Maribeth Sanford and trained by Patrick Byrne, has been knocking on the door his whole career and looked ready to kick it in following a good fourth in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) behind Cairo Prince  in his 3-year-old debut. But he followed that up with a pair of terrible performances in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), in which encountered trouble at the break, and Spiral Stakes (gr. II). Following a two-month freshening he returned with a powerhouse allowance score at Churchill Downs.

Regular rider Calvin will once again be aboard and will break from post 4.

Jessica's Star has won four of his six career starts and has never been worse than second. The son of Magna Graduate  out of the Dynaformer mare Bimini Knot looks to be improving as the distances stretch out and he could be a Travers possibility if he turns in a big effort on Saturday. The Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) looks to be another option, but he first has to get by this race. David Mello will ride for the third straight time under co-topweight of 124 pounds, conceding eight pounds to Almost Famous, who gets in with 116.

East Hall, who has proven he is capable of running with top-class 3-year-olds, is stuck on the far outside in post 12, but has shown in the past he has the ability to drop far back and make a late run. The son of Graeme Hall also gets in with 116 pounds under the allowance conditions.

Harry's Holiday, trained by Mike Maker, has not run since his Kentucky Derby debacle, but has been working well at the Churchill Downs training center, breezing five furlongs in a bullet 1:01 1/5 in his last work. Ronnie Allen Jr. rides for the first time.

Although Larcenyinmyheart has never run in a stakes and was claimed for $12,500 on March 7, he has since rattled off four straight wins, starting with an 11 1/2-length maiden score at ThistleDown and then running through his conditions with a victory in a non-winners of four last time out. His stablemate, Mushu, also trained by Anthony Rini, could be the likely pacesetter, coming off a pair of six-furlong victories at ThistleDown in which he sizzled an opening half in :45 4/5 in his last start in allowance company.

Entries: Ohio Derby

Thistledown, Saturday, July 19, 2014, Race 8

  • STK
  • 1 1/16m
  • Dirt
  • $300,000
  • 3 yo
  • 4:45 PM (local)
11Larcenyinmyheart (NJ)Scott Spieth116Anthony F. Rini-
22Brothersofthetime (FL)Jose Angel Garcia116Jorge Navarro-
33Bump Start (PA)Keeneland Sales GraduateDeshawn L. Parker116Kellyn Gorder-
44Almost Famous (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateCalvin H. Borel116Patrick B. Byrne-
55Harry's Holiday (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateRonald Dale Allen, Jr.116Michael J. Maker-
66Russellin (KY)Ken S. Tohill116Chris A. Hartman-
77Cleburne (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateLuis Antonio Gonzalez124Dale L. Romans-
88Avgolemono (ON)Joe Musarro116Anthony Dailey-
99Jessica's Star (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateDavid Mello124Michael Stidham-
1010Mushu (OH)Jareth Loveberry116Anthony F. Rini-
1111Saa Mi (KY)Jeremy Rose116Brendan P. Walsh-
1212East Hall (FL)Juan C. Leyva116William A. Kaplan-