When trainer Tom Amoss looked at potential runners for Saturday’s Grade 3 Ohio Derby, he thought Dean Martini might be a good fit for the field.
Then Dean Martini went to Thistledown and upset the race at 15-1 odds. Now Amoss and the former claimer’s owners get to have a whole new set of conversations.
“This race, the Ohio Derby, was one where I gave (the owners) a call and said, ‘Hey, he fits with this group. Do you guys want to roll the dice?’” Amoss said. “It wasn’t like I thought I’d be sitting here discussing whether or not we’re going to run in the Kentucky Derby.”
Dean Martini’s victory Saturday pocketed 20 points on the extended 2020 Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The 3-year-old son of Cairo Prince would rank 21st on the U.S. list of active Derby contenders if he was Triple Crown nominated. With 20 points already in the bank, another victory in a points-paying Kentucky Derby prep would sew up a spot in the starting gates for Sept. 5.
Unfortunately for connections, Dean Martini wasn’t Triple Crown nominated either by the $600 first closing date of Jan. 25 or the $3,000 second closing date of June 3. With no nomination, ownership group Raise the BAR LLC would have to pay almost six figures for the gelding to run in the Derby.
Darren Rogers, senior director of communications and media services at Churchill Downs, said the late supplement fee for the Kentucky Derby is 1.5 percent of its $3 million purse, which equals $45,000. Owners also would have to pay $25,000 to enter the Derby and another $25,000 to start.
“The fact that he wasn’t Triple Crown nominated is an impediment, clearly,” said owner Brad Rives of Raise the BAR. “That’s a lot of money, and it would be hard for us to come up with supplement money. Never say never, but that’s a pretty big undertaking at this point since he wasn’t nominated.”
Dean Martini had never run for his current connections when Triple Crown nomination windows closed. Amoss and Raise the BAR claimed the gelding for $50,000 on May 17 when he finally broke his maiden on eighth asking.
Amoss is Dean Martini’s third trainer. The Kentucky-bred made his first four starts for the Peter Miller barn, then his next four for Brad Cox.
Amoss was intrigued last month when Cox dropped Dean Martini, then 0-for-7 lifetime, from maiden special weight flight to run for a tag.
“Using the speed figures that we use, which are the Ragozin sheets, I thought he was attractive for that claim price,” Amoss said. “I thought he looked like a 3-year-old getting better.”
After the maiden claiming win, Amoss saddled Dean Martini in an allowance optional claiming race June 12 at Churchill. He finished second only to Man in the Can, another emerging 3-year-old.
Just 15 days later, Dean Martini broke from the No. 1 post Saturday in the 1 1/8-mile Ohio Derby. Under jockey Ricardo Mejias, he briefly battled for the early lead before settling in behind pace setters Lebda and Rowdy Yates.
Mejias then moved Dean Martini forward on the backstretch, passing Lebda along the rail before the second turn. The gelding never relinquished that lead, shaking clear in the stretch before outlasting a late-running South Bend by 3/4 of a length.
Amoss said that Dean Martini didn’t get “a traditional type of trip that wins races” but that Mejias’ early move proved correct.
“(Lebda) kept the rail open down the backside,” Amoss said. “… (Mejias) knew he had to move him quickly to establish that spot inside or those horses were all going to come over when he got into the turn and he was going to be in what potentially could’ve been a bad spot.
“Like I said, that’s not usually the type of move you see win a race. … But it ended up being a very, very wise decision.”
Attention now turns to what could be next for Dean Martini. Of the remaining Kentucky Derby preps, the one that would seem the most logical target is the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9, which pays points on a 50-20-10-5 basis.
Connections also could pivot from the Derby trail for a race such as the $500,000 West Virginia Derby (G3) on Aug. 1 at Mountaineer.
Rives said the experience of owning a horse with these types of options is “new territory” for Raise the BAR, a group that formed two years ago. Rives and two of his three co-owners, Annie Jessee and Rick Riney, are attorneys, so “BAR” is both a combination of the first letters of their first names and a nod to their profession.
Raise the BAR’s partners all are from Kentucky, further increasing the significance of a potential bid at the Run for the Roses.
“Him winning is just a wonderful outcome, unbelievably exciting,” Rives said of Dean Martini’s Ohio Derby upset. “But it changes the thought process some. So you’ve got to recalibrate and take it a step at a time.”