2017 BEST OF OHIO – SHOCK AND AWE
HISTORY MADE AND RECORDS SET
The $750,000 Best of Ohio series takes center stage each year on the Ohio Fund schedule. Five races that cover each division at varied distances all carry a purse of $150,000 and the series rotates between Belterra Park, JACK Thistledown and Mahoning Valley. The races that most often decide end of the year honors took place in Cincinnati this year.
Despite predictions of a stormy day, the races were run on a dry fast track through the card. Most in attendance didn’t know they would witness history in the first race of the afternoon, a $22,300 Ohio-bred maiden special weight that was won in wire to wire fashion by first-time starter Mandi’s Pride. The spotlight was immediately moved to the rider astride the 2-year-old filly, 63-year-old Perry Ouzts.
It was career victory 6,858 for Ouzts and it moved him into the position of being racings 9th leading in the history of the sport! The all-time leading jockey in Ohio, Ouzts plays down his accomplishments and is a man of few words. “Yeah it feels pretty good,” he said. “What made it special was winning it for Larry (Smith), I caught Pino and passed him on horses trained by him too.” The secret to his success? “I go to work every day. I’m on the backstretch five days a week, whether I have a horse to work or not – that’s what keeps me winning.” The Belterra Park meet ended the following day with Perry having a 51-win lead over John McKee in second. It was the 33rd title at Bellterra Park and River Downs in Cincinnati for Ouzts, while he lays claim to 13 top honors at the former Beulah Park just outside of Columbus.
In the first of the Best of Ohio Races, ten 2-year-old fillies went to post in the $150,000 John W. Galbreath Memorial at 1 1/16 miles. The undefeated Tango Run was installed as the favorite off of her impressive maiden win and back to back stakes victories in the Miss Ohio Stakes in the mud at JACK Thistledown and the Kevin Goemmer Tah Dah Stakes at Belterra Park. As most in the field, all of her races were in sprints and trainer William “Doug” Cowans spent the last few weeks trying to harness her speed in her morning exercise leading up to the race.
Regular rider Rex Stokes III did his best to rein in Tango Run’s want for the lead in the Galbreath, but she chased pacesetter Missap until they entered the stretch. Under jockey Dean Sarvis, Missap appeared very comfortable on the lead throughout the race. “She broke really well and went into the first turn so well and she was nice and relaxed and we knew she’d go two turns, we were loving her around two turns,” said Sarvis. Trainer Kellyn Gorder co-signed Sarvis’ opinion. “If you look at her breeding and you look at her size and scope, we were actually surprised she could sprint ( Missap broke her maiden vs. open company at 5 ½ furlongs and ran second to Tango Run in the TahDah). She has that high cruising speed and we were just waiting to stretch her out.” Ucankeepup ran second five lengths behind the winner and Tango Run held on for the third spot the final time was 1:46.06. In three starts Missap has now earned $120,000.
Owned and bred by Dr. Tod Beckett President of the Ohio Veterinarian Association, Missap was named at birth. “She was raised in Dublin and one of my doctors in small animal called me up during the Ohio Veterinarian Association conference (Dr. Beckett is the President of that Association) and it was minus 11 degrees and she was coming out upside down so I left the conference immediately. We were trying to turn her and Ohio State was trying to get there because the weather was so cold. I hadn’t delivered a horse for 10 years and we had to push her back in and bring her back out. Then when she came out she had contracted tendons, so we named her Missap because from the beginning of her life she was a mishap. She’s by A.P. Warrior out of Miss Carrera a Chilean mare and from the get go we knew she was a special filly, we just didn’t know how much talent she had. Today was just a great fulfillment for all of my colleagues in veterinarian medicine. It’s great to see her have Ohio roots because that’s how I was raised. My dad was a veterinarian and he started the University of Findlay’s Equestrian Studies Program, so I am proud to be a part of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners and for her to win today.”
WinStar Farm and Blazing Meadows’ Awaken appears to have stamped himself as the top male 2-year-old in the state with a gut-wrenching victory in the $150,000 Juvenile. 14 colts and geldings packed the starting gate – and 12 of them were already winners. Hamm had gone on record this season to say that despite his colt’s two sprint wins, he would get better as the distances got longer. After winning the Cleveland Kindergarten he went shopping for a two-turn test for Awaken and settled on the $82,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park going a mile. Dismissed at 31-1 he rated well in the 10-horse field and while making a winning move was bumped late and had to settle for 3rd, only 3 ½ lengths behind the eventual winner.
Journeyman jockey James Graham got the mount on Awaken and rated kindly in the third spot behind pacesetter Play Ball and Charlee’s Magic. Luis Rivera astride Tiz a Rush stuck to the side of Awaken throughout and bobbled a bit at the 3-furlong marker. Tiz a Rush was coming off a smashing 15 ½ length win at a mile, so it didn’t appear the 1 1/16 mile distance of the Juvenile was the question. When Awaken headed to the lead around the turn Tiz a Rush went right with him – and the race was on!
James Graham described the race with his Irish brogue. “He broke a little tardy so I gave him a slap on the shoulder and bullied him a little bit, that put him right on the bridle and let him carry me. Half way around the second turn the speed stopped and I thought sh** we’re here too soon! I picked him up, got clear and then that other horse (Tiz a Rush) came to me. He was a good neck in front of me but we came back with grit and determination and it shows what a good job Tim Hamm has done with him.” Graham assumed he’d be riding at Keeneland that Saturday. “About two weeks ago I got a call to come up here and I said, for Tim Hamm, I’ll go anywhere in the country. He’s been good to me and I’ve been good to him.” Awaken finished ½ length in front of the Jeff Radosevich-trained Tiz a Rush and it was a distant 9 lengths back to Charlee’s Magic.
“The Monmouth race was big for him. He could have easily won that race, I thought there should have been a disqualification, I’m obviously biased, but the horse right next to us jerked the right rein right into us,” said Tim Hamm after the race. “We didn’t get the call, but I think the horse got a lot out of it and showed a lot of grit. I’ve got to say this, I was impressed with the two horse, he ran his eyeballs out. Those two cleared the field, but it was a good horse race.”
Awaken is a product of the partnership between Ohio’s Blazing Meadows Farm and Kentucky’s powerhouse Winstar Farm who should produce formidable opponents for years to come on the Ohio racing scene. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver out of Finallusion by Elusive Quality now has two stakes wins on his resume and his hard fought effort in the Juvenile pushed his five-race career earnings to $175,500.
The biggest jaw-dropper of the cloudy bright afternoon was the $150,000 Sprint. Rivers Run Deep had won this race three times and there were plenty of reasons to believe he would add a fourth trophy to his case: he was 6 for 7 at Belterra Park, including a track record at 6 furlongs; he was coming into the race off an impressive 5-furlong turf win at Churchill Downs that added to his $1 million bankroll and getting the mount for the first time was the aforementioned champion jockey at Belterra Park. The public backed him down to the 1-2 favorite, helped along by a single $50,000 win bet as the horses headed to the chute.
The “Mystery Horse” in the field was Loooch and Imaginary Stables 3-year-old Moves Like Ali. He broke his maiden at first asking at Saratoga last year and return a month later in the Grade 3 Futurity at Belmont Park where he finished 3rd. An obvious physical setback kept him on the shelf until this August when trainer Jeremiah Englehart put him through a series of sprite workouts at the Saratoga training track. When the gates opened he was sent away the 5-2 second choice and he was sent away flying to the lead by Jacob Radosevich. He cut out early fractions of 22.47 and 45.23.
Rivers Run Deep was a bit slow into stride, but Ouzts was not about to let the leader get away and pressed him into action. Sad to say for the two-time sprint champion, that would be his undoing. As he caught the pacesetter on his outside, Moves Like Ali began to bear out on the turn and into the stretch causing the champ to lose valuable ground. Meanwhile, Pablo Morales took advantage of the situation along the rail with Hijo de Sheltowee and was eventually engaged in a run to the wire that would produce the closest race of the day.“As expected, I really wanted to be behind those two horses, the 1 and the 3 and whoever keeps on running, that’s who I’ll follow. I see the 3 is bolting all the way around there and the 1 had to use his horse a whole lot. So I just stayed on the rail, it was getting a little tight for me but I had the horse to push through it and I just rode the horse as hard as I could. I was never ahead of him, the head bob happened in just the last few jumps,” said the 29-yearold Morales who was fresh off accepting leading rider honors at Presque Isle Downs.
Owned by Michael Friedman and trained by Nabu Morales Pablo was asked about a family connection. “No, we are not relatives, we are both from Lima, Peru and he knows my father. But I know we are not family. I know him and he knows me being in the same races so much, I think this is the first race I’ve won for the guy I’m really happy it worked out like this. I had a great trip, the horse responded and I’m glad I came.” The 5-year -old son of Devil His Due out of Miss Sheltowee by Najran was bred by Sheltowee Farm and now has 14 career wins and earnings of $332,846.
In a past life, Ron Paolucci must have been part of the great Gold Rush and he was one of the lucky ones that always found the right stream that would produce a golden nugget. Since 2013 when he privately purchased Ria Antonia who went on to win the $1,100.000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, he has been finding runners from coast to coast that improve in value under his management. In the $150,000 Best of Ohio Distaff he had a two-pronged attack with private purchases Katalust (trained by Anthony Rini) and Mayas Queen Neetee (trained by Jeff Radosevich). Surprisingly, Katalust was made the favorite in the 1 1/8 test after having run in three straight 6-furlong races. She just missed by a neck to stablemate Proper Discretion in her last start, the $75,000 Scarlet and Gray.
John Royer’s School Board Prez, an earner of $397,990, who prefers a route of ground was installed as the second choice, with Loooch color bearer Mayas Queen Neetee the third public pick. 92-1 longshot Flashy G, trained by Radosevich was given the green light and led into the final turn. Mayas Queen Neetee, who stumbled at the start under Luis Colon stalked in second and took control easily into the stretch with School Board Prez rallying from last to grab the second spot over Flashy G. Mayas Queen Neetee won by 5 ¾ lengths in 1:51.10.
Since being moved to Ohio, the winner reeled off five consecutive wins, including the 1 1/16, $75,000 Vivacious Stakes on the turf at Belterra Park. Her first loss in the Buckeye State came in her last race where she ran third in the 6-furlong Diana Stakes at Thistledown. When asked about that, Jeff Radosevich said “The short race? Yes, she needed a race in there to get ready to go long. Between that and this I just made her happy and keep her happy. It’s like any woman, it’s the truth you have to keep them happy, if they like what they are doing they run better. The other filly ran very well too, she was happy because she hasn’t run since August.”
Mayas Queen Neetee is a 5-year-old mare by Speightstown out of The Niagara Queen by Langfuhr and was bred by Anstu Farm. The win in the Distaff was only her 12th lifetime start and sixth career win to put her earnings at $230,292.
The Best of Ohio finale was the 1 ¼ mile $150,000 Best of Ohio Endurance. The target was on the back of 2016 Horse of the Year Mo Dont No and the Loooch Stable runner did not disappoint his backers who sent him away as the odds-on favorite in the field of 15 – yes, 15. The gate crew had to paint a new sign for the starting gate and the groom for Gepetto had to wear an improvised vest that was spray painted with the rare post position number!
Mo Dont No had won 5 of his 7 starts this season and his two second place finishes took place in a stakes turf race and sprint – neither his main cup of tea. He broke sharply in the Endurance and let longshot Gepetto enjoy the front end for a half mile. After that “the race was for place,” as he went into cruise control through the lane with Cake Pop getting the second spot by a nose over Let’scalliteven. “Mo” hit the finish a length in front while setting a new track record of 2:03.32. The son of Uncle Mo was bred by Steve DeMaiolo’s Beechwood Racing Stable and his 14th career win increased his bankroll to $651,255.
Jockey Ricardo Feliciano, who has now ridden him for five consecutive wins summed up the talents of the 2016 Ohio Horse of the Year. “He’s a runner. He can run on cement, nails, dirt, on the front or from the back. He started pulling on me early and I don’t fight him, I just let him do his thing, he’s a pretty fun horse to ride.” Concerning the fact that he has never been beaten at 1 ¼ miles Feliciano stated. “Oh he’s a beast and like I said he can come from out of it or go right to the lead and that’s what makes him so deadly. He can go inside, outside, some horses are one dimensional and a lot of times you can lose races because of that, but whatever you throw at him – he’s going to overcome that and he’s going to do it in an easy way. I mean he broke the track record today and he came back and he was just kidding around. He wouldn’t even blow out a match, he’s scary, it’s freaky. I just thank “Loooch” and those guys, Jeff knows this horse like the back of his hand and it’s cool to be a part of this horse.”
Galloping Out on Best of Ohio Day: Kudos to Vice-President and General Manager of Belterra Park Chris Corrado. He sponsored a hospitality room for the members of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners and all that had horses entered in the Best of Ohio races that featured an outstanding array of food and beverages and plenty of seating for all.
Danielle Nichtner, the Marketing Director of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance volunteered her services to meet and greet all in attendance while distributing information about her organization. She has roots at the track as she was once an intern at River Downs while she was the Captain of THE Ohio State Equestrian Team.
Former leading apprentice rider at River Downs Gary Birzer and former leading rider Jeff Johnston of the Jockey’s Guild were on hand to accept a generous $10,000 donation from Belterra Park to the Permanently Jockeys Fund. Gary suffered a permanent injury in a spill at Mountaineer Park, but you would never know it by his positive attitude and outgoing personality. The track’s sister track, Retama Park in Texas also donated $10,000 to the PDJF.
Dan Metzger the President of the national Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners was in attendance to present the trophy for the Juvenile Stakes – perfect timing. He got to present the trophy to Tim Hamm, trainer of Awaken. Hamm was recognized as TOBA’s Ohio Breeder of the Year in 2016.