Ohio Derby Race Report: Wicked Decision

Published in the June 28 issue of The Blood-Horse
Before the June 21 running of the $300,000 Ohio Derby (gr. II) at Thistledown, trainer Kenny McPeek was perplexed. Should he travel to Cleveland to saddle Wild and Wicked in his first start in stakes company or catch a plane to New York to watch his multiple grade I winner Take Charge Lady in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park? In the end, McPeek opted for Northern Ohio, where he was joined by Wild and Wicked's owners and breeders, R. David and Marylyn Randal, to collect the $180,000 winner's purse after the son of Wild Again notched a 3 1/4-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile race.

"I was on the fence about coming here (Thistledown) or Belmont. But coming here, I got the chance to visit with my aunt, who I haven't seen in a few years, and take a long weekend for my wife's birthday (June 21). I think my decision worked out well," said McPeek, whose Take Charge Lady finished second, five lengths behind Sightseek, in the Phipps.

Despite having only two career races to his credit, a 9 1/2-length victory in an April 25 maiden special-weight at Keeneland and a 2 3/4-length allowance victory at Churchill Downs, Wild and Wicked entered the gate as the even-money favorite. He didn't disappoint the 14,200 in attendance on Ohio's richest day of racing, including retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, who now spends his time as general manager of Santa Anita Park.

Wild and Wicked dueled with the lone Ohio-bred, Hackendiffy, throughout the race, finally wearing down the son of Willowy Ambassador and drawing off under a hand ride by jockey Shane Sellers.

The winner pressed the early pace, with Hackendiffy leading the seven-horse field through fractions of :23.98, :48.62, 1:13.04, and 1:37.70 over the fast track. Wild and Wicked cut Hackendiffy's lead to a mere head at the top of the stretch, before taking command and completing the distance in 1:50.08.

"Shane and I talked about it. We decided to let him sit on the outside," said McPeek of the race strategy. "We were aware that Hackendiffy was going to go on out there and we wanted to sit off his flank and lay about a length or a length-and-a-half off and it worked perfect to plan."

Under regular rider Robby Albarado, Midway Road, who finished second behind Funny Cide in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), attempted to save ground along the rail, only to have to check hard on the heels of Private City. A second run up the rail resulted in Albarado having to snatch his mount out of additional trouble. He finished third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Hackendiffy. Crowned King, Private City, On the Border, and Miss Karry Thenews completed the order of finish.

"We didn't break clean and probably lost the race in the first three-eighths of a mile," said trainer Neil Howard, who conditions homebred Midway Road for William S. Farish. "It went well thereafter, but we were up against a heck of a winner. He proved today he's a very nice colt, and who knows what might be in his future."

What is in Wild and Wicked's future is a possible mid-summer showdown with either Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide in the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) at Monmouth Park or Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Empire Maker in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga. Both races are on Aug. 3.

"We'll talk about it and see what happens," McPeek said. "These people deserve a good horse so bad. They work at it and have been with me for a long time."

The Randals reside in Fallbrook, Calif., where R. David Randal is the president of Hazard Construction Co. They also own Fallbrook Farm near Versailles, Ky., where they keep about 20 of their own mares. The Randals, who have four horses in training with McPeek, have been involved with racing for more than 30 years. Marylyn said growing up she wanted a horse but instead got dance lessons, so now she says, her husband is paying the price for what her parents never gave her.

"When we got married, I told my husband that I had always wanted a horse, so we spent our honeymoon in Lexington, and soon after I got him interested in horses, and so here we are now and we love it," she said.

(Chart, Equibase)