Halfway through Saturday’s $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3), jockey Ricardo Mejias had a choice to make. His mount, Dean Martini, was full of run after saving ground throughout. And a gaping hole had appeared inside the pacesetters, giving Dean Martini a clear shot at the lead.
Making a move with more than a half-mile remaining is unorthodox, but rather than wait for a more traditional time to pounce, Mejias seized the opportunity and asked Dean Martini to accelerate. The response was immediate, as the 3-year-old gelding eagerly shot through to take command. Was it early? Yes. But it was also the winning move as Dean Martini got the jump on his pursuers and held on down the stretch to win the 1 1/8-mile race in determined fashion.
Both horse and rider were triumphing for the first time against graded stakes company, and while the ascent to stardom wasn’t unexpected for Mejias—a 21% winner last season—for Dean Martini, it marked the next step in a remarkable transformation from former claimer to Kentucky Derby contender. Beaten in his first seven starts for trainers Peter Miller and Brad Cox, Dean Martini had to drop down to maiden claiming company to secure his first victory, winning for a $50,000 tag on May 17 at Churchill Downs.
Dean Martini was claimed that day by Tom Amoss, and the son of Cairo Prince has subsequently shown improvement carrying the colors of Raise the BAR Racing. A runner-up effort in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on June 12 at Churchill set the stage for a tilt at the Ohio Derby, in which Dean Martini was disregarded at odds of 14-1 while wheeling back on just 15 days of rest.
The short turnaround clearly made little difference to Dean Martini, who broke from the rail in a field of 13. After briefly vying for the lead with Rowdy Yates and Lebda through a quick opening quarter in :22.80, Dean Martini settled back into fifth place, racing along the inside while 12-5 favorite and reigning champion 2-year-old Storm the Court endured a wide journey from post 12.
The pace slowed down on the backstretch and the half-mile elapsed in:47.22, prompting Dean Martini’s early sprint to the front. Following 6 furlongs in 1:11.88, Dean Martini kicked away from Lebda and bid for home, opening up a three-length lead at the eighth pole. Though he gradually grew leg-weary from his midrace exertions, Dean Martini was resolute down the lane and held off a late surge from South Bend to prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:51.60.
Storm the Court flattened out in the stretch to finish two lengths back in third, while Rowdy Yates, Sprawl, Lebda, Rogue Element, Unrighteous, Informative, Bear Alley, Code Runner, Established, and Dack Janiel’s completed the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones and Bret Jones, Dean Martini was produced by the stakes-winning Friends Lake mare Soundwave. Victory in the Ohio Derby secured Dean Martini $300,000 plus 20 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, though it remains to be seen whether his connections will pursue a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. Dean Martini isn’t currently nominated to the Triple Crown, and supplementing the gelding to the Derby will require a payment of $200,000.