Several of the dozen 3 year olds who will line up for Saturday's $500,000 Ohio Derby (Grade 3) at JACK Thistledown Racino have already run at the race's 1 1/8-mile distance. A few—those who tried the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes—have run longer without hitting the board. Only one, Diamond King, has a win at the Ohio Derby distance.
The first time Diamond King tried two turns didn't help trainer John Servis gauge his affinity for routing; the Quality Road colt lost his rider heading into the first turn of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) in his third start. He answered the question three starts later by winning the Federico Tesio, pressuring the early leader and then withstanding pressure himself. Whether he uses that speed Saturday is up to regular rider Frankie Pennington.
“He'll do anything,” said Servis, “so we'll leave it up to Frankie. He'll see how he breaks and go from there. We know he can get the distance, and he has learned to settle. Our plan for him is to have a good year, put some money in the bank and try to gain some value for him as a stallion, so we're looking at some of these derbies in the Midwest.”
Diamond King put in a work Tuesday, going four furlongs handily in :52.30 at Parx, before shipping to JACK Thistledown Thursday morning.
O'Kratos has a couple of wins at 1 1/16 miles, including the Marine Stakes (G3) at Woodbine in his most recent start. The primary question for Darwin Banach's trainee isn't distance; it's surface. The colt has raced exclusively on turf or synthetic surfaces.
“I'm a big fan of synthetic because there are less fatalities and I'm not comfortable running horses on muddy or sloppy tracks,” Banach said. “But there are absolutely no straight 3-year-old races on synthetic right now. Woodbine has a dirt training track and his last three works were on dirt. He certainly works as well over the dirt as he does the synthetic; his last work he went four furlongs in 46 (June 17, best of 20). We've been working him with two horses in front of him to get him accustomed to kickback.”
While O'Kratos has speed, he doesn't have to have the lead, Banach said. “He's versatile, so what we do will depend on how the race goes. From the nine post he'll probably drop down to save ground and get comfortable.”
Channing Hill will ride O'Kratos Saturday for the first time.
O'Kratos “is happier if he gets to go out and do something,” Banach said, so he will jog over the JACK Thistledown track Friday and Saturday mornings after vanning in overnight Friday. “I've never had a horse who loves to train as much as this one. He doesn't like to stand around. As soon as he sees the bridle, he's screaming to go.”
The Ohio Derby is the ninth of 10 races Saturday. The feature is supported by the George Lewis Memorial, 1 1/8 miles for accredited Ohio foals 3 years old and up, and the black type J. Wm Petro Memorial Handicap, 1 1/16 miles for registered Ohio fillies and mares 3 years old and up.
To accommodate the 10-race card, Saturday has a special first post time of 1:10 p.m. ET. The Ohio Derby is scheduled for 5:10 p.m.
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