Courtesy of Thistledown

For Best of Ohio, a Chance for Some Growth

The advent of VLT gaming in the state figures to impact the state-bred series.

Fifty-one horses are entered in the five races that make up the Best of Ohio, an event that figures to benefit in future years from video lottery terminal revenue.

The Best of Ohio races will be run Oct. 12 at Thistledown, whose owners intend to have more than 1,000 VLTs operating on the first floor of the Cleveland-area facility in the second quarter of 2013.

This year's championship races will offer a combined $350,000–four $75,000 stakes and one worth $50,000. Under the rules of the Ohio Thoroughbred Race Fund, $220,000 comes from the state and $130,000 from the horsemen's purse account.

The OTRF currently derives all its revenue from pari-mutuel handle, which has gradually decreased in Ohio over the past 15 years. Because horsemen and the state's racetracks still have no agreement on how their share of VLT revenue will be divvied up, it remains to be seen how the OTRF will benefit when gaming begins.

The $75,000 Best of Ohio Endurance, for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/4 miles, is headed by 5-year-old Eyes Super Freaky, who was bred and is owned by Randall Blevins and trained by Gary King. The Ohio-bred Silver Wagon gelding has competed in four Ohio fund stakes this year with two wins, one second, and one third.

The $75,000 Best of Ohio Distaff at 1 1/8 miles features one of the most prolific state-bred mares to race in recent years and a 3-year-old filly with plenty of upside.

Pay the Man, an 8-year-old Bernstein mare owned and bred by Pyrite Stables, is scheduled to make the 60th start of her career in the Distaff. The Miguel Feliciano trainee has won 23 races–18 of them Ohio stakes–and has 16 wins in 23 Thistledown starts; her career earnings are $867,156.

Aggressive Elegance, a 3-year-old Macho Uno  filly bred and owned by Peter Shepell and trained by Craig Holstein, has started only five times but has two Ohio stakes victories, including one at 1 1/8 miles. She would have two wins and three close seconds if not for a disqualification to fourth in a stakes at River Downs in August.

The Friday card at Thistledown begins at 1:50 p.m. EDT. The final five races of the eight-race program are Best of Ohio stakes.

According to The Jockey Club, Ohio in 2011 had 159 mares bred and 38 stallions, up from 136 and 30, respectively, in 2010. In 2001, however, there were 865 mares bred and 114 stallions standing in the state, according to Jockey Club statistics.

Ohio officials said passage of the racetrack VLT law in 2011, even though there is still an outstanding legal challenge, led to a bump in interest among breeders in 2012.