The Ontario Derby began its life as the Colonel R. S. MacLaughlin Handicap, and carried MacLaughlin's name from its inauguration in 1972 until it took the Ontario Derby name in 2003. It began as a nine and a half-furlong race for three-year-olds over the main track. It was shortened to its current nine-furlong distance in 1992. It has oscillated between being ungraded and being a Grade 3 event; it has held a G3 designation in 2000-2003, 2006, and from 2012 to the present day.
Three members of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame have won the Ontario Derby. L'Enjoleur (1975) was the Canadian Horse of the Year at both two and three, and went on to sire Canadian champions Avowal and Par Excellance. Norcliffe (1976) was the Canadian Horse of the Year at age three, and went on to Champion Older Horse honours in his country at age four. Frost King (1981) was a three-year-old champion, and went on to be Horse of the Year, Champion Older Horse, and Champion Grass Horse at age four.
There have been several ties between the Ontario Derby and solid Chicago-area stakes performances over the years. The aforementioned Frost King won the National Jockey Club Handicap at Sportsman's the next year. At age four, Stephanotis (1996) finished third in the Washington Park Handicap (G2). The 2015 Ontario Derby winner, Lucky Lindy, capped off his three-year-old season with a trip to Chicago and a confident victory in the 2015 Hawthorne Derby (G3).
Lucky Lindy rolls clear in the 2015 Ontario Derby. He would win the Hawthorne Derby in his next start.
Last year's winner, Tiz a Slam, has moved forward at age four. He has gone on to win the Dominion Day (G3) and the Nijinsky (G2) this year, and will contest the Canadian International.
Race 3: Ontario Derby (G3), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the Tapeta, post time 2:14pm EDT
This year's Ontario Derby offers a purse of $125,000, and drew a field of six sophomores to contend.
Polytrack maven LOOKIN TO STRIKE appears to be aptly named. The son of Lookin At Lucky comes off an allowance score against older -- in fact, he has cleared both his first and second allowance conditions against older horses this year, at route distances over the Woodbine Tapeta. That most recent score came with Gary Boulanger in the irons, and Boulanger returns for this outing. LOOKIN TO STRIKE has tactical speed: a positive, since even though he could send from his relative inside draw, he may be outjumped by CURLIN'S HONOR, the sprinter stablemate who drew just inside him. The one question is a mile and an eighth, as LOOKIN TO STRIKE was well beaten over the trip two starts back. But, that outing came over the grass, and he faded after a protracted speed duel. Now he returns to his favourite surface, and if he settles a bit more kindly (at least through the first half-mile or so) he will be right there to slug it out at the end.
MR RITZ has found cracking good form over the grass, winning a first-level allowane at Woodbine in August before romping in the Caesars (née Centaur) Stakes at Indiana Grand last month. Though both of those were routes on the grass, the son of Oasis Dream does have all-weather form: a close second in a one-other-than at Woodbine this summer, as well as a maiden win over the polytrack at Kempton in Great Britain. It is worth noting that his second-place finish at Woodbine came at seven furlongs, whereas he has blossomed going two turns. MR RITZ has tactical speed, and his pedigree suggests that he should hold his form on the stretch out to nine furlongs. As long as the same MR RITZ who showed up on the grass in his last two starts can turn up on the polytrack, he will contend.
STRIKE ME DOWN tries graded stakes company for the first time in the Ontario Derby. But, having held his own in sophomore allowance company at Saratoga this summer, he has shown he is fast and classy enough to acquit himself well in this spot. He also has tactical speed, giving rider Jose Ortiz some options on where to put him. The son of Tapit has only gone longer than a mile and a sixteenth once: the Queen's Plate, going a mile and a quarter over this course. Though STRIKE ME DOWN finished off the board for the only time in his career so far, he didn't disgrace himself: near the rear of the field early, he had a troubled trip and improved for a fourth-place finish behind Wonder Gadot. In this field of six, that sort of trouble is less likely to strike STRIKE ME DOWN down. Add to that the fact that a mile and an eighth ought to suit his pedigree perfectly, and he merits another try at a longer trip.
#2 LOOKIN TO STRIKE (6/1)
#3 MR RITZ (7/5)
#4 STRIKE ME DOWN (2/1)
Longshot: #6 PEPPERED (8/1) does not often win, but if you like to play exotics in smaller fields by keying longer shots underneath, he's your horse. In six starts over the Woodbine Tapeta, he has never missed the board. PEPPERED is not married to a particular running style, as he has run well in route races near the pace or from well off it. And, though he has never been ridden by John Velazquez before, the rider change should not faze him. After all, when he ran in an allowance on the Woodbine Mile undercard last month, the strategy of "find a good jockey who is shipping in" worked well. Javier Castellano took a leg up that day, and PEPPERED finished second beaten three-quarters of a lengths behind Amberwood, a salty six-year-old. The mile and an eighth is a new frontier, but it is for most of the field. As long as PEPPERED runs his race -- which, on the Tapeta, he reliably does -- he should be able to run on for a piece.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Race Course. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.