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Gonzalez Finds Spot for Lebda in Saturday's G3 Ohio Derby
Multiple Stakes-Winning Sophomore Seeking Third Straight Win
LAUREL, MD – Unbeaten as a 3-year-old with back-to-back stakes wins at Laurel Park, Euro Stable’s Lebda will face his biggest challenge yet when he stretches out for his return to graded company in Saturday’s $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown.
Based at Laurel with summer meet-leading trainer Claudio Gonzalez, Lebda is listed as second choice on the morning line at odds of 7-2 in a field of 15 led by lukewarm 3-1 program favorite Storm the Court, the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner and subsequent 2-year-old male champion.
“We’ve been looking at races everywhere because here at Laurel we don’t have anything right now, and this race came up,” Gonzalez said. “He needs to run. He’s feeling really good and he’s ready, that’s why we decided to go over there. And he fits right in with the horses there.”
Contested at 1 1/8 miles, the Ohio Derby will be the Lebda’s longest race to date and first since a convincing 4 ¼-length triumph in the Private Terms March 14 at Laurel, also around two turns at about 1 1/16 miles. He was a front-running three-quarter-length winner of the one-mile Miracle Wood Feb. 15 in his season opener.
Lebda raced twice in graded-stakes as a 2-year-old, running third in the 1 1/16-mile Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs before a ninth-place finish in the one-mile Nashua (G3) in November at Aqueduct – his only time off the board in eight career starts that include four wins.
“All the time he gets better and better. He’s more mature now and he’s concentrating more on his training,” Gonzalez said. “He won around two turns and he ran two turns before at Churchill Downs, too, and I don’t think he ran bad.
“I really think he’s going to like the track over there and he’s going to run good. He’s going to be right there,” he added. “We’re going to try to get a good position going into the first turn and then we’ll see what happens.”
Thistledown, located in North Randall, Ohio outside Cleveland, will be the fifth racetrack for Lebda, having also romped by 11 lengths in a 5 ½-furlong optional claiming sprint last summer at Delaware Park.
Lebda was among the late nominees to the Triple Crown for a fee of $3,000, half of the original price tag before the deadline was extended to June 4 amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which put Maryland’s live racing on pause for 2 ½ months until May 30.
Maryland’s leading trainer the past three years, Gonzalez has given Lebda nine timed works over Laurel’s main track since the Private Terms, including three consecutive bullet five-furlong breezes – 59.20 seconds May 29, 59.60 seconds June 12 and 1:00.20 June 19, respectively the fastest of 26, 11 and 17 horses.
“The owner [Valter Ramos] is a really good owner, a really good person, and that’s why I try to run in the big races because you never know, especially when they’re doing good,” Gonzalez said. “He’s doing really good. He’s happy.”
Gonzalez has one graded-stakes victory on his resume, the 2017 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) at Laurel with Chublicious. Regular rider Alex Cintron will make the trip to ride with four previous graded wins, two of them coming last year – the Highlander (G1) on Wet Your Whistle and Honorable Miss (G2) aboard Minit to Stardom.
Cintron and Lebda will break from Post 4. Post time for the Ohio Derby, Race 8 at Thistledown, is 4:22 p.m.
Other Ohio Derby horses with Maryland connections are stakes winner South Bend, owned by Sagamore Farm of Reisterstown, Md., and Trin-Brook Stables Inc.’s Informative, second by a nose in the James F. Lewis III last November at Laurel.
Magic Weisner, based in Maryland with his late breeder, owner and trainer Nancy Alberts, won the Private Terms and was second in the Preakness Stakes (G1) in 2002 before capturing that year’s Ohio Derby.