By Jim Freer
Sunday, July 20 — A headline today in the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s on-line edition /reads: East Hall shocks favorites in $300,000 Ohio Derby at ThistleDown Racino.
Well, Cleveland, a lot of racing folks here in Florida beg to differ about the word “shock.” East Hall’s exciting Ohio Derby win on Saturday was far from a surprise to those who saw his very respectable races this year in Gulfstream Park’s stakes for 3-year-olds.
East Hall, trained by Bill Kaplan, ran in four Gulfstream stakes races. He finished between second and fifth while chasing the likes of Constitution, Wildcat Red and General a Rod across the finish line.
The competition was easier but still respectable in the 1 1/16 mile Ohio Derby at Thistledown in North Randall, which is near Cleveland.
On Sunday, back at Gulfstream, Kaplan said that going into the Ohio Derby “I felt we were the best in the field.”
Still, East Hall was the third betting choice at 9-1.
East Hall, always a strong closer, passed five horses in the final furlong and beat Jessica’s Star by a nose. He was ridden by his regular jockey Juan Leyva and ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.22 in a light rain on a track listed as wet fast.
Jessica’s star, at 2-1, finished 2 ¼ lengths ahead of the 3-2 favorite Almost Famous. Those two horses battled for the lead during most of the race.
At Gulfstream this year, Almost Famous finished fourth in the Holy Bull (Grade 2) and 11th in the Fountain of Youth (Grade 2). East Hall did not run in the Holy Bull and came in fourth in the Fountain of Youth.
Jessica’s Star came into the Ohio Derby off a victory in the Iowa Derby (Grade 3) at Prairie Meadows on June 28.
East Hall won the Ohio Derby despite having the outside post in the 11-horse field. He was forced several paths wide on the first turn. Leyva kept him in the clear on the backstretch. Then he began his move that led to him catching Jessica’s Star at the wire.
It was the first stakes win and third victory in 16 career starts for the Florida-bred East Hall, who is owned by H. Jack Hendricks and Roger Justice.
“He ran against some of the best 3-year-olds in the country in his Gulfstream races,” Kaplan said. “I felt that we had a very good chance (in Ohio) even after we drew the outside post.”
The gelded son of Graeme Hall finished third in the Gulfstream Park Derby, fourth in the Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) and fifth in the Florida Derby (Glade 1). He prepped for the Ohio Derby with a second-place finish behind Wildcat Red in the Quality Road at Gulfstream on June 28.
At least thus far, none of the 3-year-olds that ran at Gulfstream are regarded as superstars. But based on stakes wins at other tracks and their strong showings in Triple Crown races, that group is one of the deepest to come out of Gulfstream in several years.
On Sunday, Kaplan mentioned the $75,000 Monarchos Stakes, at one mile at Gulfstream on Aug. 30, and the $400,000 Super Derby (Grade 2) at 1 1/8 miles at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 6, as possible targets for East Hall.
Because he is a gelding, fans can look forward to seeing East Hall run in stakes races in South Florida and nationally for several more years.