“He’s always had that second gear, thank the Lord,” said John Jones, the breeder of Ochoa. “I’ve got a pacemaker, and I thought it was going off at the break.”
Ochoa – last year’s All American Futurity winner and a 1-1 favorite at post time – had to recover from a poor break from the gate and run down the duo of Priceless Feature and Tres Seis Nueve to win with a time of 21.353 seconds.
“He’s just such a powerful horse, he just needed a little racing room,” said jockey Roy Baldillez. “The four horse (Tres Seis Nueve) kind of came over and I had to go around him a little bit. He just needed a little racing room and is such a powerful horse that he overcame them at the end.
“I probably caught him about 50 yards to the wire,” he added. “He just has a lot of power.”
One surprise was that an expected showdown between Ochoa and Feature Mr. Bojangles – the 2-year-old champion colt for 2011 – never really materialized. Feature Mr. Bojangles broke next-to-last from the gate and couldn’t recover, although he was a tenth of a second slower than Ochoa at the end. Priceless Feature, Jess Lips and Tres Seis Nueve were all bunched up at the end, and Ochoa’s victory wasn’t immediately apparent in the photo finish.
“I’ve tried to get Mr. Hubbard to run the race at 500 yards,” Johnson said, joking about Ochoa’s tendency to accelerate at the end. “We feel really good about him. He’s a great horse, and he’s a people person, too. He wants to win, but not any more than I do.”
The victory meant another big payday for Ochoa, who won almost $380,000 for his connections, bringing his career earnings to more than $1.6 million. Saturday’s purse for the Rainbow Derby was an all-time high of $903,774.
Next up – of course – is the All American Derby, another race that has achieved record highs for its purse. It’s also a race with which Ochoa could push his career earnings to more than $2 million if he wins.
“He’s a big horse, it just takes him a while to get rolling,” said trainer Dwayne “Sleepy” Gilbreath. “Everything looks good with him so far, and I think the horse is just now getting ready to run. I think we’ve got some better races out of him.”