A Brief History of the Ohio Derby

June 21, 2022

Held at Chester Park in Cincinnati, the inaugural Ohio Derby in 1876 was won by Bombay under famed African American jockey William Walker. The bay colt was trained by Hall of Fame inductee Edward D. Brown, also African American, who as a jockey won the 1870 Belmont Stakes and as a trainer had won the 1877 Kentucky Derby. 

Bombay was owned by Daniel Swigert of Stockwood Farm for whom Brown worked conditioning many future stars such as Baden-Baden, Spendthrift and Hindoo. 

The son of Planet out of Nora by Sovereign (GB), Bombay completed the then 1 1/2 mile race in 2:46 flat earning a purse of $1,000. 

The race was discontinued in 1884 until it was revived 30 years later at Maple Heights Park.

In 1924, the Ohio Derby was cut back to 1 1/8 miles with a purse of $4,000. The winner was Black Gold in a time of 1:57.40. The pitch-black colt by Black Toney out of U-See-It had also won the Kentucky Derby seven days before. Fun Fact: The great equine story-teller Marguerite Henry wrote a book about Black Gold. 

From 1928 thru 1932 the Ohio Derby was held at Bainbridge Park Race Track, a facility built in 1927 by John King and Homer Kline.

The race transferred over to Thistledown in North Randall, Ohio which had opened in 1931. 

The Ohio Derby was not held in 1933 and 1934. It was revived in 1935 and won by Isaac Jacob Collin’s Paradisical. Then the race was discontinued the next year until it was brought back in 1951.

Alfred Vanderbilt Jr.’s Find would win the 1953 edition under Eric Guerin trained by William Winfrey, the same team that had taken Native Dancer to the Triple Crown. 

Find would set the National Track Record at Thistledown for nine furlongs at 1:48.00.

Bred in Maryland by Vanderbilt, Find was the son of Discovery out of Bemeleck mare Stellar Rose. He raced until he was 11 when he finished third in the Sussex Turf H. The bay colt ended his 110-start track career with 21 wins, 27 second places and 27 thirds with earnings of a phenomenal $803,615.

Find lived until he was 29 and is buried at Sagamore Farm. A stakes race named for him just run last weekend at Laurel Park. 

In 1955, the great Eddie Arcaro won the Ohio Derby aboard the Woody Stephens trained Traffic Judge, playfully named after his dam, Traffic Court.

The race’s distance would change again in 1960 to 1 1/16 miles. Trainer/Owner Hal Bishop’s Playgoer would win the contest in 1:47.80. 

The race was run at this distance until 1964, the year Lucien Laurin won with National under jockey Pete Anderson. 

In 1965, the race reverted back to 1 1/8 miles and was won by Terra Hi trained by Robert Holthus. The son of trainer Paul Holthus, Robert is the all-time winningest trainer at Oaklawn Park.

The Ohio Derby became a Grade 2 in 1973 and was won by Elizabeth Pritchard’s Our Native. After winning 14 of 37 starts with earnings of $426,969, Our Native retired to High Point Farm in Kentucky and sired many top winners.

The winner’s purse for the Ohio Derby was raised to $150,000 in 1986, the year Gary Stevens won aboard Robert Meyerhoff’s Broad Brush for trainer Dicky Small. 

In 1989, the winner collected $180,000. King Glorious was the victor under Chris McCarron for Jerry Hollendorfer. 

One of the most famous winners in memory is Skip Away in 1996. Trained by Hall of Famer Sonny Hine and owned by Carolyn Hine, the colt was piloted by José Santos. Fun Fact: Skip Away was the owner of 10 Grade 1 victories. 

Skip Away set the Ohio Derby record for the 1 1/8 mile distance at 1:47.86. Gushing Wind would set the 1 1/16 mile record in 1962 at 1:42.80. And McWhirter set the 1 1/2 mile record in 1877 at 2:40 flat.

From 2014 to 2016, the Ohio Derby had lost its graded status and was run as a Listed/Restricted race. In 2015 the winner’s purse was raised to $300,000.

The 2017 edition would be run as a Grade 3 contest and was won by Reddam Racing’s Irap under Julien Leparoux for trainer Doug O’Neill. 

The race remains a Grade 3 today.

Most wins by jockey are tied between six at two each: 
Garth Patterson (1976, 1984)
Pat Day (1980, 1995)
Jacinto Vásquez (1982, 1990)
Willie Martinez (1994, 2004)
Shane Sellers (1998, 2003)
Mike McCarthy (1999, 2000)

Most wins by trainers are also tied between five with two wins each:
Edward D. Brown (1876, 1881)
Clarence S. Buxton (1931, 1932)
Woody Stephens (1955, 1979)
Richard W. Small (1986, 1999)
Thomas M. Amoss (2016, 2020)

And most wins by owners are tied between two at two wins each:
Jerome H. Louchheim (1931, 1932)
Robert E. Meyerhoff (1986, 1999)

Fun Fact: Pete D. Anderson, trainer of 2007 winner Delightful Kiss, won this race in 1964 as the jockey on National.

By Maribeth Kalinich
Main Photo: Over the course of eight days in 1924, Black Gold won the Kentucky Derby and then Ohio State Derby. Photo courtesy of Thistledown

Contributing Authors

Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Maribeth Kalinich grew up in a family with a love for horses, a passion for Thoroughbred horse racing and a taste for playing the ponies....

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