2016 Smarty Jones Stakes Preview

The winter and spring meet at Oaklawn Park got underway on Friday.  Their road to the Kentucky Derby starts on Monday, with the Smarty Jones Stakes.

The Smarty Jones is a one-mile dirt race, the first in a series of Kentucky Derby preps over the Hot Springs oval.  The series continues with the Southwest Stakes (GIII) on February 15, the Rebel Stakes (GII) on March 19, and the Arkansas Derby (GI) on the final day of the meet, April 16.  The Smarty Jones is the newest addition to Oaklawn’s series of Kentucky Derby preps.  The race has always been at a flat mile, but has only been run since 2008.  This year’s edition offers a $150,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers.

The race’s namesake swept the Southwest Stakes, the Rebel Stakes, and the Arkansas Derby in 2004.  He continued undefeated through the Kentucky Derby (GI) and the Preakness Stakes (GI) — winning both by open lengths.

Though the race has not yet produced any Classic winners, several of its winners have gone on to distinguished careers after the Triple Crown series.  Flat Out (2009), who won the second running of the Smarty Jones, blossomed as an older horse.  He won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) in both 2011 and 2012, and concluded his career with a win in the Cigar Mile (GI) in 2013.   Caleb’s Posse (2011) found his best form going extended one-turn distances, and concluded his sophomore season with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Churchill Downs.  Will Take Charge (2013) won both the Travers (GI) and the Clark (GI) en route to being named Champion three-year-old male, and came back to Oaklawn the following year to win the Oaklawn Handicap (GII).

Will Take Charge wears down Texas Bling to win the 2013 Smarty Jones Stakes.

Picks and Ponderings also brings coverage of the three-year-old Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks points races at Fair Grounds on Saturday, February 16.  We preview both the LeComte Stakes (GIII) as well as the Silverbulletday Stakes.

Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  Edited February 18 to add morning lines, as well as to account for the expected scratch of original second selection KNIGHTS KEY, as well as WHITMORE.

Monday, February 18: Oaklawn Park

Race 8: Smarty Jones Stakes, three-year-olds, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:38pm CST

Followers of the Chicago circuit will find several familiar faces here.  A field of fourteen, scratched down to twelve, Illinois-bred Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII) winner SHOGOOD, scratched out of the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity, resurfaces here.  Arlington maiden winner (and eventual Remington Springboard Mile winner) DISCREETNESS joins the fray, as does Hawthorne maiden winner FORCE IT.

Still, many eyes will be on the West Coast shipper with the Chicago-inspired name: TOEWS ON ICE.  He comes into here from a second-place finish behind stablemate Mor Spirit in the Los Alamitos Futurity (GI).  The cutback from a mile and a sixteenth last out to a mile here may help him along, as all of his wins have come between six and seven furlongs.  But, the running style gives pause. In every single start, TOEWS ON ICE has been right on the lead, pressing or dueling.  The issue, there, is that so many other runners in this race have shown speed, and done their best on the front.  LUNA DE LOCO and GORDY FLORIDA have been speedy, and stretch out for the first time here.  SHOGOOD has shown his best on the front, and has both the PP lines and the breeding of a sharp, frontrunning sprinter.  BACKTOGETHERAGAIN and BLACK OPS have gone two turns before, but did their best on the lead.  BACKTOGETHERAGAIN had his way; BLACK OPS, at least, survived some contention.

Could TOEWS ON ICE win this race?  Sure.  If anyone in the front end brigade survives, it will be either him or BLACK OPS.  But, so many runners in this field have shown solid form already, and are lightly raced enough to have some real upside.  TOEWS ON ICE rates here, and this space would not dissuade anyone too strongly from a defensive use in a multi-race, but this space will let the son of Archarcharch beat them.

SYNCHRONY tries stakes company for the first time in the Smarty Jones, and deserves this chance to shine.  He graduated second time out, going seven furlongs at Keeneland.  He returned in an N1X at Churchill in November, going on Lasix for the first time, and went off the even-money pick.  He only won by a head, but there was a lot to like.  The pace was not exceedingly fast that day, and yet SYNCHRONY managed to rally from a few lengths off the pace and then outgame Uncle Walter to the wire.  In three starts, he has never gotten locked up on the front end, and should be able to stay out of that fight here as well.  Don’t let the name Forest Wildcat in the damsire slot scare you here.  Not only has SYNCHRONY won going seven and a half furlongs, but dam Brownie Points was herself a stakes winner at two turns over both turf and dirt.  This son of Tapit will get a mile just fine, and he looks tough to beat in the Smarty Jones.

DISCREETNESS merits a long look here.  He has raced twice at a mile.  He was a well-beaten fourth in the Street Sense Stakes at a one-turn mile, but rallied well in the slop to take the two-turn Remington Springboard Mile last time out.  He had pace to chase that day, and should get it again here.  It does not stand to be muddy for the Smarty Jones, but he also has an allowance win over fast dirt.  As far as pace is concerned, DISCREETNESS has run well from near the pace or farther off of it; this gives him an out if much of the speed does not fire.  He will likely be best served employing the midpack style he used in the Springboard Mile again here.  He gets regular rider Jon Court back in the irons, and has been working well at Oaklawn toward his return.  DISCREETNESS looks well spotted.  BLACK OPS interests here, too.  He broke his maiden at second asking in September, pressing on a contested pace and then drawing clear.  However, on debut, he was near the back early and remained interested.  Though he was well beaten, seven and a quarter lengths behind the talented Whitmore (already an allowance winner at Oaklawn), BLACK OPS did take that step forward when he moved into a route race.  That debut also came over a fast track.  The win came over slop, but his debut showed enough on debut to suggest that he is not just a slop monster.  BLACK OPS is a bit speculative, both given the class rise as well as the fact that he graduated so close to the lead in such a speed-packed race.  Still, there are enough suggestions that he can both take a step forward and show good form off pace that BLACK OPS rates at a price.


#8 SYNCHRONY (9/2)


#7 BLACK OPS (12/1)

Longshot:  Let’s look back to the home team, and give #11 FORCE IT (15/1) one more shot.  He was well beaten last out in the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), and has been on the shelf since that race Thanksgiving weekend.  Still, that came over slop, as did his fourth-place finish on debut.  He has a win over fast dirt at Hawthorne, and a win over good dirt at Churchill Downs as well.  In addition to the better surface in the Smarty Jones, he should get a better trip than he did in the Kentucky Jockey Club.  That day, he drew the rail, and he sent far closer to the early pace than he had ever been before.  Here, he draws outside, and should be able to settle off the likely heady pace.  FORCE IT should be able to handle a mile, being by More Than Ready out of a Dansili mare.  Finally, he reverts to having rider Julio Felix in the irons.  Felix and FORCE IT have united once before — his maiden romp at Hawthorne.  Felix can ride well at Oaklawn, and there are enough suggestions that he could get this one into the frame at long odds.


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