Western Pride leads the Ohio Derby field to the finish line, with Woodmoon (7) second.

Western Pride leads the Ohio Derby field to the finish line, with Woodmoon (7) second.

AP Photo/ Phil Long

Ohio Derby Report: Western Streak

Published in Oct. 6 issue of The Blood-Horse
Riding a two-race win streak, Western Pride entered the $300,000 Ohio Derby (gr. II) Sept. 29 at Thistledown with his guns blazing. He won the nine-furlong West Virginia Derby in track record time on Aug. 11 at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort and prepped for Ohio's biggest race with a 6 1/4-length allowance win on Sept. 3 at the Cleveland-area oval. So when the "rider's up" call was made, Western Pride was ready for a showdown. It was to be his biggest battle to date, facing 1-5 favorite and last year's 2-year-old juvenile male champion, Macho Uno, and four other rivals.

The Ohio Derby, contested for the first time in the fall after being a summer fixture, attracted a crowd of 10,365 who watched Western Pride go gate-to-wire to win the 1 1/8-mile event. Woodmoon, a 22-1 longshot, was a half-length back in second, with Macho Uno a neck farther back in third. The final running time was 1:48.66. Saint Damien, Weston Field, and On the Game completed the order of finish. Saratoga Games and Unbridled Time were both scratched the day before the race.

Western Pride enjoyed a two-length advantage at the half-mile marker, while setting a comfortable pace of :23.30, :47.20, and 1:10.84 for three-quarters under jockey Dana Whitney. Woodmoon and Saint Damien gave closest chase down the backstretch while Macho Uno bided his time in fifth before making his move five wide, then dropping on the inside rounding the second turn. "I thought we had a good chance in the lane, but he flattened out," said Macho Uno's rider, Hall of Famer Gary Stevens. "He's a racehorse. He'll come back from this."

While the others were busy giving chase, Whitney allowed Western Pride to drift out in the stretch, which put the determined Woodmoon and Macho Uno to his inside. "I could see their shadows and my horse responded," Whitney said. "I asked him for more an he dug in."

Woodmoon and Macho Uno bumped slightly in their efforts to wear down the winner, who prevailed gamely despite the stern test.

"We decided to stick with the same game plan (as the West Virginia Derby)--go to the front and see what happens," Whitney said.

Trainer Richard Estvanko, who hails from Medina, Ohio, said he was confident entering the race despite facing Macho Uno.

"I knew we would be facing him, but I thought we could contend with him, and we did. My horse was ready and Dana did an outstanding job. I didn't give him any instructions; he knows this horse." Estvanko celebrated his first graded stakes win with Western Pride.

After the race, owner Theresa McArthur and her husband, Rolf Obrecht, who live near Cincinnati, said the win was especially meaningful due to their Buckeye State roots.

"Any win is exciting, but this means a lot since I am from Ohio. Any Derby win is exciting and now we have two. We knew he was coming around in January but we never dreamed he would be as good as he is," said McArthur, who also races grade I winner Caller One with longtime friend Carolyn Chapman.

"Western Pride is 'numero uno' and Macho Uno is 'numero dos', at least for today," said Obrecht. "This is just unbelievable."

In the week leading up to the Ohio Derby, Macho Uno's status was questionable. He suffered a minor bout of colic Sept. 22, but trainer Joe Orseno deemed him fit to ship and race.

"He didn't win today; that's all you can say," Orseno said. "I'm disappointed right now, but he pulled up sound, and that's good. I don't know why he flattened out in the last eighth. Maybe it was the missed work, maybe it was the trip down."

Orseno conditions Macho Uno for Thistledown owner Frank Stronach, who won last year's Ohio Derby with Milwaukee Brew.

Orseno had hoped the Thistledown race would serve as a successful prep for the World Thoroughbred Championships Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) on Oct. 27 at Belmont Park. "If he comes out of this sound, we're still thinking we might make it there. It's a wide-open division, and the healthy horses have the best chance of winning."

While Orseno contemplates Macho Uno's next move, Western Pride is bound for the Calder Derby (gr. III) Oct. 20 at Calder Race Course.  

(Chart, Equibase)