06/22/2017 10:30AM

Justalittlesmoke, Buckeye Bullet imposing favorites in Thistledown stakes

JJ Zamaiko Photography
Justalittlesmoke has won seven of her last eight races.

While the favorites in Saturday’s Ohio Derby at Thistledown hope to rebound from defeats, that’s not the case for the favorites in two undercard stakes showcasing Ohio’s breeding program.

Justalittlesmoke looms large in the $75,000 J. William Petro Memorial Handicap for Ohio-registered fillies and mares, while Buckeye Bullet is riding a win streak as he faces a familiar foe in the $75,000 George Lewis Memorial Stakes for Ohio-accredited horses.

Defending Petro Memorial winner Justalittlesmoke has won seven of her last eight races, and the lone loss was by a nose against males in the 2016 Best of Ohio Sprint. Given a winter freshening following that race, the mare came back to win an optional claimer by seven lengths at Thistledown. She then scored a repeat victory in the track’s Michael G. Mackey Memorial Angenora Stakes, rolling by 2 3/4 lengths for the 11th stakes victory of a career in which she has never been unplaced while bankrolling $677,870 for Mast Thoroughbreds and trainer Robert Gorham.

Justalittlesmoke, who prefers to be a pace factor, drew post 4 under regular rider T.D. Houghton. They face several familiar foes, including La Nina Bronca, Proper Discretion, Bold Cait, and Tune Up, who were second through fifth in the Angenora. Tune Up was second in last year’s Petro Memorial, one of three times in the last year she has been the runner-up behind Justalittlesmoke.

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Star Mabee and Bold Cait were second and third in the 2016 Best of Ohio Distaff.

Earlier on the card, Buckeye Bullet looks to extend his win streak to six for the Ruberto family in the George Lewis; all those wins have come under Luis Quinones, who keeps the mount. In his most recent outing, he scored his first stakes victory in the Michael F. Rowland Memorial Handicap at Thistledown.

Second by two lengths in the Rowland Memorial was Eightthehardway, who finished eight lengths clear of the rest of the field while making his first start in more than five months. The gelding, trained by Richard Vickers, was a dominant winner of the Catlaunch Stakes last September at Thistledown and won the Ruff/Kirchberg Memorial Handicap in his final start of 2016.