The Kentucky Derby trail has five major branches: Southern California, Florida, New York, New Orleans, and Arkansas. Three of those branches have run their first prep races of the season. New Orleans has their prep next week. This piece makes the first visit of the year to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. On Monday - Martin Luther King Jr. Day - the oval presents the tenth running of the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Though the race is ungraded, it does offer a $150,000 purse and like its other four-prep-out counterparts (Sham, LeComte, Jerome), offers a 10-4-2-1 point distribution of Kentucky Derby points to the top four finishers. The race honors Smarty Jones - this author's hook horse - and the winner of the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He wintered that year at Oaklawn and swept the Southwest, Rebel, and G2 Arkansas Derby. Past winners of the Smarty Jones include Flat Out (2009), who won multiple G1s against elders, Caleb's Posse (2011), a Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile hero, and Will Take Charge (2013), who whose Jim Dandy-Travers-PA Derby-Clark summer/fall gave him champion sophomore honors.
Will Take Charge takes the 2013 Smarty Jones Stakes. At year's end he'd be champion three-year-old male. Video courtesy Youtube.
We haven't forgotten about the Kentucky Oaks and their preps, either. Nicolle Neulist heads to Aqueduct for the Busanda Stakes on Sunday.
Morning lines for this race scheduled for Monday January 16th were not available at original publish time. Updated January 14 to include morning lines.
Oaklawn Park -- Race 8 -- Smarty Jones Stakes -- One Mile on Dirt -- post time 4:38 PM CT
Given that one can ship easily between Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, this race has a relatively parochial feel. Fair Grounds is in the midst of a state-ordered quarantine due to cases of Equine Herpes Virus, or EHV. So this race contains mostly locally stabled runners and sees everyone in the field eligible for a first-level allowance.
This race also features a lot of horses who like to do their work on the front end. The short stretch of one-mile races at Oaklawn does put a closer behind the eight-ball. Perhaps that fact will keep the price honest on ROWDY THE WARRIOR. The dependable midwest-based team (Oaklawn-Prairie Meadows-Remington) of Luis Quinonez and Donnie Von Hemel are responsible for this runner last seen fourth a slow-paced Springboard Mile. ROWDY THE WARRIOR closed from the parking lot that day at Remington. Winner in career start three of a two-turn mile at Remington, he's proven around two turns (and bred for it). He'll get pace to chase from the field's front speed (WARRIOR'S CLUB) and stretchouts (PETROV). He might be a clunk-up one run closing type on paper, but this is a good spot to take one. Trainer Ron Moquett lured Jose Ortiz out of snowy Aqueduct to ride his mounts at Oaklawn. Ortiz, as a result, is not here for Oaklawn's noted corned beef sandwiches. But the fact Ortiz rides on racing's most scrutinized circuit means the odds on him will be like a corned beef sandwich on special days: low priced. PETROV is going to take money off his running lines, and he's a head away from a perfect two-for-two record. A defensive use, he'l be low priced and on the engine given all the speed. But he did rally off the pace when splits were slower last out at Aqueduct so there may be some potential rating gears in him. UNCONTESTED didn't shame himself with a fourth in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club on Turkey Day Weekend and was among the pace in that event. McCracken, that race's winner, is on a short list of vogue two-year-olds turned three that most others are watching. UNCONTESTED did the dirty work there and if Oaklawn plays to speed, he's one to use. This race represents a drop in class from his last race and he's fired some quick works over the local strip.
#4 ROWDY THE WARRIOR (6/1)
#1 PETROV (5/2)
#6 UNCONTESTED (2/1)
Longshot: This spot goes for some home cooking. No, not local ROMEO O ROMEO. Though he's among the field's pre-scratch octet in this race, his future probably lies away from the dirt. For home cooking, we mean some Arkansas-based home cooking. Willis Horton owned Will Take Charge when he was on the Oaklawn road to the Derby trail, and The Natural State resident is back with #5 UNBRIDLED EAGLE (8/1). Lukas is out, Asmussen is in as the trainer du jour for Horton. A winner of a seven-furlong maiden special weight at the Spa in the summer, he gets to get first time two turns on the dirt - and with him being by Mineshaft out of an Unbridled's Song mare - is probably more in tune to his breeding than trying the G3 Bourbon on turf during FallStars. A one-turn mile wasn't to his liking on Stars of Tomorrow I day, likely. With mucky but excusable form and humans who have danced this dance before, UNBRIDLED EAGLE could pop at a price with Ramon Vazquez in the irons.