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Buckeye States His Case

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ohio might be one of Kentucky’s border states, but finding an Ohio-bred colt at the Kentucky Derby is harder than turning up a Michigan fan in Columbus.

In 127 years, only one Ohio-bred has won the Derby--favored Wintergreen, who didn’t win another race in 1909. In the last 36 years, only five horses from the Buckeye state have run in the Derby, which really isn’t much of a surprise. Ohio breeds about 1.5 million more hogs than horses.

In fact, in 1999 there were only 635 thoroughbred foals bred in Ohio. That’s compared to Kentucky, the leader on the list with 9,826. Three years ago, 11 states bred more thoroughbreds than Ohio.

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But two of those 635 Ohio-breds--Harlan’s Holiday and U S S Tinosa--have advanced to what might be called the Kentucky Derby semifinals. Harlan’s Holiday won the Florida Derby three weeks ago and with one prep to run--the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 13--is a lukewarm favorite for the Kentucky Derby. U S S Tinosa, who’s also trained by an Ohio-bred--Jerry Hollendorfer, who sneaked off from school in Akron to bet horses--is the 6-1 fourth choice on the morning line for Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

Should Hollendorfer go all the way with U S S Tinosa at Churchill Downs on May 4, he’ll be the biggest horseman to come out of Ohio since Leonard Slye. Never heard of him? Well, a little later, after Ohio, he became Roy Rogers.

Although U S S Tinosa, named after a well-decorated U.S. submarine that sank 16 enemy ships in World War II, has a solid and consistent record, he has raced largely in the shadows of the big time. Hollendorfer didn’t expose the gray colt to Santa Anita until February, when he won a minor stake, beating no one who’s running Saturday. On March 17, in his last start, U S S Tinosa finished second, two lengths behind Medaglia d’Oro, in the San Felipe Stakes. Medaglia d’Oro’s final Kentucky Derby warmup will be the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 13.

“All I know is that Jerry, a guy who doesn’t say much, is saying that he’s going to win Saturday,” said Peter Abruzzo, a Chicagoan who races U S S Tinosa in a partnership with Barry Thiriot. A victory by his colt would give Abruzzo a 44th birthday present a day early.

To win the 65th Santa Anita Derby, U S S Tinosa will have to beat Came Home--the 6-5 favorite who has lost only once in six starts--and Mayakovsky, the 3-1 second choice who’s coming off a sharp 33/4-length victory in Aqueduct’s Gotham three weeks ago. Rounding out the eight-horse field for the 11/8-mile race are Jack’s Silver, Lusty Latin, Proud Citizen, Easy Grades--the 9-2 third choice--and Danthebluegrassman, the Bob Baffert trainee who beat U S S Tinosa twice at shorter distances at Golden Gate Fields early this winter.

U S S Tinosa’s breeding is hardly fashionable. His sire, Foxhound, has gone back to England, where he currently stands for a fee of about $5,000. The dam, Angel Puss, was bought by Jim Eigel’s Rosemont Farm for $4,200.

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David Eigel, a son of the Rosemont owner, named U S S Tinosa after his father-in-law, who served on the 311-foot sub. Eigel sold U S S Tinosa at a yearling auction for $40,000. Jim Tilton was the trainer of the horse for five races restricted to Ohio-breds--two of them resulting in victories. U S S Tinosa was then moved to Arlington Park, where in his debut under Hollendorfer the colt won an ungraded, one-mile grass race last October.

Abruzzo, who races a large stable in Chicago, saw that race. He and Hollendorfer, meeting by chance in a box seat when the trainer ran third with Mula Gula in the 2000 Arlington Million, had been doing business together last summer, and after U S S Tinosa’s victory, Hollendorfer called to say that he had a $250,000 option to buy 50% of the horse. Abruzzo didn’t have to be asked twice.

Hollendorfer brought U S S Tinosa back to his year-round base in Northern California, and before his first race at Golden Gate, Tilton sold his interest to Thiriot, an Oregonian in the fried chicken business. Abruzzo is in several businesses, including a tuxedo-rental chain that has 28 stores.

“That’s the most I’ve ever spent on a horse,” said Abruzzo, who bought his first horse, a standardbred, about 20 years ago. “I run a lot of horses in various partnerships, because while I like to have a big stable, I don’t believe in putting all my eggs in one basket. The way this horse has developed, it kind of makes you wish you owned all of him.”

Aware of Ohio-breds and their unimpressive reputation in the Kentucky Derby, Abruzzo practically issued a disclaimer:

“It might say Ohio-bred on his papers, but he can run and I think the Kentucky Derby distance [11/4 miles] will be really good for him. He’s really not much of an Ohio-bred--he was really raised in Kentucky.”

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Rosemont Farm is in Lexington, Ky., not far from Keeneland. David Eigel likes to raise Ohio-breds because they’re eligible for a lot of restricted races at Thistledown, the Cleveland track that he favors. U S S Tinosa won his first race at Thistledown, beating stakes company after failing twice against maidens at River Downs near Cincinnati. Overall, U S S Tinosa has three victories, four seconds and two thirds in 10 races, with earnings of $238,259.

Considering their small representation in the Kentucky Derby since 1966, three of the five Ohio-breds have entered the race with reasonable credentials. Air Forbes Won had won the Wood in 1982 and was undefeated in four starts when he ran seventh at Churchill Downs as the 5-2 favorite. In 1988, Kingpost won the Jim Beam--now the Spiral--at Turfway Park before running 13th in the Derby. In 1980, Execution’s Reason, the Arlington-Washington Futurity winner, finished 11th in the Derby.

Next might be U S S Tinosa, backed by a tuxedo man who’s looking for the perfect fit.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien said Thursday that Johannesburg’s only Kentucky Derby prep will be the Gladness Stakes, at seven furlongs on grass, Sunday at the Curragh near Dublin.... Kent Desormeaux, who rides U S S Tinosa, leads the country in purses with $3.5 million. Desormeaux won the 1997 Santa Anita Derby with Free House and in 1998, after finishing second at Santa Anita, won the Kentucky Derby with Real Quiet. Desormeaux also won the Kentucky Derby with Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Desormeaux, whose right ankle was sore from a starting-gate accident Wednesday, took off his mounts Thursday.

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Santa Anita Derby

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