Alexis Annechino



            On several levels, the formation of the Best of Ohio Series of 2020 can be viewed as a success – from the competitors on track to the bettors off-track. Thistledown Director of Racing, Patrick Ellsworth, Racing Secretary Hugh Drexler and their staff put together a sensational all-Ohio-bred card. The five-race undercard had an average purse of $29,060. Despite having to run against a rescheduled Travers Day stakes-laden card, at the end of the day, the all-sources handle was a sensational $1,134,379.

The successful partnership of owner/breeders WinStar Farm and Blazing Meadows Farm with Tim Hamm as trainer took the two 2-year-old races.  The barn has several talented juvenile filly performers and they split duties with Esplanande going against males in the $100,000 Best of Ohio Cleveland Kindergarten at 6 furlongs.  She was undefeated in two starts and came into the race off of a wire-to-wire win in the $75,000 Hoover Stakes at Belterra Park.

Esplanande and John McKee beat the boys.

In the $100,000 Kindergarten she was stretching out ½ furlong, but the race was an almost identical replay of the Tah Dah. Jockey John McKee was deputized to ride the Hamm trainees and when the gates opened, he and Esplanande sprinted from their inside post to set the pace. They repulsed the challenge of Brig at the half-mile post and then withstood a threat from Uptown into the lane. McKee shook up his mount with right-handed urging and she responded willingly to finish with vigor by 4 ¼ lengths in 1:12.66. Uptown held second over Brig.

Esplanande is a daughter of Daredevil out of the Dixie Union mare Southern Silence. She is now 3 for 3 with $120,460 in earnings.

The $100,000 Best of Ohio Miss Ohio looked like a replay of the previous race – same owners/breeders/trainer/jockey and outcome, only at 5 ½ furlongs. Alexandria broke cleanly with McKee aboard. They quickly caught Rebel Power to take the lead and at the 3/8ths pole were challenged by Gonnabegood, who was second to her in the $75,000 Jim Morgan Tah Dah at Belterra Park. As in their last meeting, Alexandria seemed to relish the challenge and under urging entered the stretch 4 lengths in front and extended her lead to 9, when hitting the wire in 1:06.62.

Alexandria hand ridden by John McKee for a 9 length win in the Miss Ohio.

“She’s a real competitor,” said McKee after the post-race celebration. “I had her in hand when that horse came to us and she just went into another gear and we just galloped to the wire. For a young horse, she is very professional. Tim’s done a great job with her.” Finishing in her wake were Charlie Williams’ stablemates Somuchsugar besting Gonnabegood. Alexandria is by the red-hot sire Constitution out the Spring At Last mare Spring Water. Staying undefeated with two stakes victories among her three starts, she now has earnings of $117, 960.



The 6-furlong Best of Ohio Honey Jay brought together the state’s best sprinters to run for their share of the $100,000 purse. After the defections of three horses, a field of seven matched strides in the most thrilling finish of the Series. Ron Paolucci’s Dare Day led the field for the first half-mile, but company was coming after fractions of 21.88 and 45.42. Buckeye Bullet, the fast winner of the 6-furlong Mike Rowland Memorial, went wide to take a short lead.

Jockey Jose Bracho used a different tactic and ducked inside with Cake Pop as the leaders seemed to drift out at the top of the stretch. Two-time Ohio Horse of the Year Altissimo drifted all the way to the eight path and dug in determinedly – and the race was on! Cake Pop on the inside, Buckeye Bullet alongside and Altissimo on the outside. Bracho went to strong left-hand urging and they were all out at the wire to last by a neck over Altissimo who was ½ length in front of Buckeye Bullet. The finishing time was 1:11.00.

Cake Pop and Jose Bracho hold off Horse of the Year Altssimo.

Trainer Gary Johnson made a critical equipment change to Cake Pop when he had the six-year-old gelded in June and Cake Pop has since won three in a row. Ron Paolucci owns Cake Pop, who now sports a record of 39-12-4-8 for earnings of $490,465. Cake Pop is a son of Notional out of the Prized mare Hey There Cupcake and was bred by Penny and Michael Lauer.

The $100,000 Best of Ohio Pay The Man turned out to be a controversial event with the 8-length winner, 3-year-old Moonlit Mission, being disqualified by the stewards and placed seventh. The overwhelming question on the track apron was, “Could you see anything the winner did?”  We’ll reserve judgement, but here is the official chart from the Equibase chart caller.

MOONLIT MISSION unhurried early near the inside, shifted out six wide nearing the far turn, drifted in slightly while splitting horses, bumped  LEONA’S REWARD as that one was forced outward entering that turn, closed rapidly, drifted out to the seven path entering the stretch while making the lead and drew off to win as much the best. CIRCUS RINGS stalked the pace into the far turn, made the lead and quickly drew clear, set the pace into the stretch then was no match for the winner. LEONA’S REWARD reared at the start, was unhurried while settling four then five wide, was bounced around between horses and forced outward slightly entering the far turn causing her rider to check then came on again late while no threat. TOTALLY OBSESSED close up dropped back on the far turn near the inside, shifted out to the middle of the racetrack entering the stretch and came on again late. CALI DREAM reared at the start, moved up steadily outside into the far turn then failed to sustain that bid. GRIZABELLA was through after a half. DRILLIT also unhurried, ran up on heels three wide approaching the far turn, shifted out bumping rivals, checked and faltered. DISTINCTIVE FLOWER chased the early pace and was through after a half. ROLLIN ALL THE WAY moved up between rivals before a half then came up empty. TIZ WHAT away alertly, set the pace along the inside into the far turn then tired. THE STEWARD POSTED THE INQUIRY SIGN AND THE RIDERS OF DRILLIT AND LEONA’S REWARD LODGED CLAIMS OF FOUL AGAINST THE RIDER OF THE WINNER FOR INTERFERENCE AT THE THREE EIGHTS POLE. AFTER REVIEW THE STEWARDS DISQUALIFIED MOONLIT MISSION AND PLACED HER SEVENTH.

            Owner Charlie Williams has filed an appeal with the Ohio State Racing Commission.

Circus Rings and Hector Berrios in the Post Parade.

            Obviously, there was a lot going on around the turn, but Circus Rings and Hector Berrios were clear in front when the chain reaction was occurring. While no match for Moonlit Mission, she was 11 ½ lengths in front of Leona’s Reward. When the smoke cleared, the official order of finish was Circus Rings, Leona’s Reward and Totally Obsessed. Moonlit Mission’s final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:54.82.

Circus Rings was elevated to her third win in 2020 and the 5-year-old mare pushed her career record to 24-8-2-2 with earnings of $225,341. He is owned by Knights A to Z Racing LLC and is trained by Valerie Shanyfelt.




“The sun hasn’t set on this boy yet.” Two-time Ohio Horse of the Year Mo Dont No is seven years old now, but he proved he is not ready to be turned out to pasture and became Ohio’s newest millionaire with an authoritative victory in the $100,000 1 ¼ mile Best of Ohio Governor’s Buckeye Cup. Forwarned shipped in from his east coast based where he just ran third in Belmont’s Grade 3 Westchester Stakes. On his last visit to Ohio he was a clear winner of the 2019 $150,000 Best of Ohio Endurance going the 10-furlong distance. He was made the 3 to 5 favorite, but you still have to run the race.

Coming into the race “Mo” had two starts against open company and could only manage a third place finish in a six-furlong sprint. Before the race, owner Ron Paolucci stated, “Don’t write ‘Mo’ off yet – he is training like he was a 3-year-old!” Nine horses lined up for the classic distance and “Mo” stalked the pace for a half-mile, came up to leading Mobil Solution at the mile marker and began to grind away to a 3 length lead in the stretch under Jose Bracho to hold clear over I Wanna Win  and Forwarned, who settled into mid-pack  for most of the race and was finishing strongly.

“Mo” relishes the rarely run 1 ¼ mile distance.  He has run the distance eight times now and has six wins and a second. Trained by Jeff Radosevich he now has earnings of $1,047,110 with a lifetime record of 43-20-10-3.  He is a gelded son of Uncle Mo out of Ohio Broodmare of the Year Lilah by Defrere.  She was bred by Steve DeMaiolo’s Beechwood Racing Stable.



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