10/01/2009 12:00AM

Competitive Endurance tops Best of Ohio


NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Saturday's program at Thistledown is the most attractive ever to be presented here. The card has six stakes, headlined by the 75th running of the Grade 2 Ohio Derby, which has attracted a field of 13 3-year-olds. The other five stakes are for Ohio-bred horses and make up the 23rd Best of Ohio Series.

The $100,000 Ohio Endurance at 1 1/4 miles is the most interesting race of the series and may well be decided by who gets the best trip. The three top horses, Catlaunch, Smarmy, and Key Low, were separated by a half-length in the Buckeye Governor's Handicap going the same distance here on Sept. 5.

Catlaunch, a rugged 8-year-old Noble Cat gelding, has been a model of consistency throughout his 71-race career while carving out a 29-14-9 record good for earnings of $703,536. Owned by his breeder, the Scioto Farm, and trained by Ivan Vazquez, Catlaunch has been in top form all season and has won a pair of stakes while not finishing worse then third in seven starts. He closed ground to finish second by a head in the Governor's Buckeye.

Catlaunch prefers to run on or near the lead, but the likely pacesetter in the Endurance will be Key Low, who showed the way in the Governor's Buckeye before finishing third, beaten a half-length. Key Low has displayed dramatic improvement for trainer Shane Meyers since being claimed for $4,000 on June 29. He has defeated stiff company in an allowance race at Presque Isle since the Governor's Buckeye.

If a speed confrontation develops between Catlaunch and Key Low, the race may set up for Smarmy, who won the Governor's Buckeye with a strong late move.

* In the $100,000 Best of Ohio Distaff, Pay the Man will try and keep her unique streak of never having been beaten by a distaff rival in 11 Thistledown races intact. A 5-year-old Bernstein mare, Pay the Man won this nine-furlong race last season and has earned $510,165. Pay the Man is owned by her breeder, the Pyrite Stables, and is trained by Miguel Feliciano. Her main rivals are Ohio's last two champion 2-year-old fillies, Slides Choice (2008) and Sarasponda (2007).

* I Can't Refuse will try to win the $75,000 Sprint for a third time. He won the six-furlong race last year and in 2006. Among his rivals is Ben's Reflection, who has been voted Ohio's champion sprinter three times and who won this race in 2004 and 2005.

The biggest name in the Sprint is two-time graded stakes winner King of the Roxy, who was voted Ohio-bred horse of the year in 2007. The 5-year-old horse made his first start in Ohio on Aug. 29, winning the six-furlong Honey Jay Stakes here.

* The final two stakes are the Juvenile and John Galbreath Memorial. Both stakes are for

2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles and each has a purse of $75,000.

Cleveland Kindergarten winner That's a Heckofacat heads the Juvenile, and stakes-placed duo of Country Club Sue and Adreamfordarlene are the favorites in the Galbreath.