Updated on 09/15/2011 2:07PM

Whitney will have Western Pride in front in Ohio Derby


As long as they spell his name correctly on the check, Dana Whitney doesn't really care if anyone thinks he's a woman.

Although he has been riding professionally for eight years and currently is the leading rider at Mountaineer Park, Whitney still is frequently mistaken for a female by those who don't know any better.

"Maybe it's because my last name is a girl's name, too," he said.

On Saturday, when he puts Western Pride on the early lead in the 67th Ohio Derby, Whitney will be focused on less trivial matters. When Western Pride carried Whitney, 31, to his richest career victory in the $500,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 11, he did so by leading every step of the way.

Whitney, an Arkansas native who rode in Kentucky for about two years before going to Mountaineer almost five years ago, said he is less concerned by the presence of heavily favored Macho Uno than he is with getting his mount to get comfortable and confident on the lead.

"If there's not any other speed in there with him, I'll be tickled to death," he said. "I'm almost sure I'll be sending. My horse likes that. It seems like he runs harder that way."

Uneventful van ride

Macho Uno arrived at Thistledown at 7:30 a.m. Thursday following an uneventful 10-hour van ride from Belmont. "He slept the whole way," said trainer Joe Orseno. "He's definitely feeling good."

Stronach Stables and Orseno are seeking a second straight Ohio Derby, having won last year with Milwaukee Brew. The last time a horse was such a heavy favorite in this race, Skip Away won easily in 1996.

Weston Field steps up

Trainer Tony Reinstedler insists he hasn't lost his mind. He knows that a horse still eligible for entry-level allowance conditions figures to have a difficult time against stakes-proven horses.

"Sometimes you've got to step up to the plate and swing," said Reinstedler, partly explaining why he is running Weston Field in the Ohio Derby.

There actually is more logic involved. "He's a stone closer who probably wouldn't like Turfway, so I didn't run him there, and there's not a 1 1/8-mile allowance race for him at Keeneland until the end of the meet," he said. "He's coming out of his skin right now, so I thought we'd go ahead and take a shot."

An upset by Weston Field would make him the second Derby winner for Reinstedler this year. Percy Hope won the Lone Star Derby in April but died in early July after becoming ill.

McPeek takes a shot

With Saint Damien, Ken McPeek is another trainer playing the angles. "Any time a horse colics that close to the race, he might be vulnerable," he said, referring to Macho Uno. "But I don't know."

Saint Damien has been competing most recently on grass but did finish second in the Illinois Derby in April.

"My horse deserves another chance with good horses on the dirt," said McPeek.

Horse and trainer will reunite Saturday in Cleveland. Saint Damien, based this summer at Arlington with McPeek assistant Sally Schu, arrived Thursday by van from Chicago. Meanwhile, McPeek planned to make the six-hour drive from Louisville.

Local longshots

If either can manage an upset, Western Pride, based at Thistledown, or Unbridled Time, an Ohio-bred, would end a highly successful month for Ohio horses.

Earlier this month at River Downs, Ohio-breds swept the track's two biggest open stakes: Joanies Bella won the Bassinet, and Harlan's Holiday won the Cradle.

Matchmaker on undercard

The lone stakes on the Saturday undercard is the newly created Adena Springs Matchmaker Sprint for fillies and mares. The purse is $35,000, and the top three finishers will be awarded a season to young stallions who stand at Adena Springs, the Kentucky breeding farm owned by Frank Stronach. The first-place finisher goes to Golden Missile; second to Wild Rush; and third to Running Stag.

Hope for record handle

With such major states as New York simulcasting their entire 12-race card, and California taking the final four races (which make up a pick four), management at Thistledown is optimistic that a track record for all-sources handle will be established Saturday.

The previous high was set in 1999, when over $3.85 million was bet on the Ohio Derby card.