05/29/2007 11:00PM

Rowland Memorial begins big weekend

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NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - The $50,000 Michael F. Rowland Stakes on Friday signals the beginning of Ohio Derby weekend at Thistledown. The race is named for the local riding champion who died as a result of injuries suffered in a spill at Turfway Park in 2004.

The six-furlong race has drawn seven Ohio-breds, topped by multiple stakes winner Catlaunch, who will be seeking a repeat win in the Rowland. Catlaunch is coming off a statebred allowance win here May 17. The victory was the 10th in his last 15 starts.

Catlaunch is owned by Scioto Farm and trained by Ivan Vasquez. He is very quick and will be favored to wire this field. Hector Rosario Jr. has the mount.

Go Johnny Go and Polish Six Belle, the lone 3-year-old in the field, are the main contenders.

Go Johnny Go was second behind Catlaunch on May 21, beaten 2 1/4 lengths while making his first start of the year. Last season, Go Johnny Go finished third behind Catlaunch in two stakes.

Polish Six Belle steps into stakes competition for the first time. He has won 2 of his 4 starts and has a high turn of speed.

Ohio Derby trio know the track well

Saturday's Grade 2 Ohio Derby will be a homecoming of sorts for some of the participants.

o It has been 43 years, but Pete Anderson can still recall every step of the 1964 Ohio Derby, in which he rode National to a three-quarter-length win.

"He was really a good sprinter, a seven-eighths-of-a-mile horse, but he just lasted," said Anderson, now a Florida-based trainer.

National was trained by Lucien Lauren, who 10 years later would develop Secretariat into one of America's all-time greats.

On Saturday, Anderson, now 75, will saddle Delightful Kiss in an effort to become the first horseman to win the Ohio Derby as both a rider and trainer.

o Bob Holthus, who sent out the 1965 Ohio Derby winner Terra Hi, will start Officer Rocket on Saturday. Holthus, 72, has had a long associaton with Thistledown, having spent several summers here as a youngster with his father, the late horseman Paul Holthus.

o Mark Shuman is the son of veteran Thistledown trainer Joe Shuman. In 2000, when his father was found to have colon cancer, Shuman quit his job as an assistant trainer in New York and came home to run his father's large stable. When his dad recovered, Shuman gained national attention while winning many races as trainer for owner Mike Gill.

In the Ohio Derby, Shuman will send out Xchanger, a colt he purchased last year at auction for $40,000 and has developed into a stakes winner of $291,990.