The Oaklawn three-year old series is the most exciting program you’ll see anywhere in the sport of horse racing. It’s what the track is known for, and its also what has made it become as popular as it is today. Recent horses such as: Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin, Lookin At Lucky, Super Saver, and Bodemeister have all used Oaklawn as a spring-board to Triple Crown success. This year Oaklawn will have four races count towards the Kentucky Derby in the new “Derby Points” system. The first will be the Smarty Jones on January 21st, followed by the Southwest Stakes on February 18th, the Rebel Stakes on March 16th, and the one million dollar Arkansas Derby on April 13th. Lets take a look at some of the early contenders as we head down the road to the Kentucky Derby.
As of right now Brown Almighty is the horse everyone is talking about. He’ll most likely be the favorite in the Smarty Jones Stakes, and considering his class he deserves it. Brown Almighty has two wins in five starts, and also has two second place finishes as well. His only off the board finish came in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf where he had a troubled trip and finished ninth. While his consistency and class is evident, one major question looms large…can he run on the dirt? All five of his races so far have been on the turf. His workouts suggest he’s handling the Oaklawn surface very well, but you can never be 100% sure until you actually run a race. If he handles the dirt he will become a major player in this division.
While there may be questions about the dirt for Brown Almighty, there is no doubting that Texas Bling can handle it. Texas Bling is coming off a major victory in the $300,000 Remington Park Springborad Mile, where he won the race at 99-1! Perhaps 99-1 was a little high, but judging by his past races you could see why he should have been a longshot. In nine prior starts he had just one win, and had only hit the board three times. So was the Springboard Mile a fluke, or is Texas Bling just coming on at the perfect time? He’s had one workout since arriving at Oaklawn, and is said to be pointing towards the Smarty Jones Stakes on January 21st. Even though he won the Springboard Mile, the Smarty Jones will be a proving ground for this colt that has come out of nowhere.
When talking Oaklawn three-year olds you can never leave out D Wayne Lukas. This year Lukas comes in with three colts that could be serious players. Titletown Five may be the most talented colt he’s had in years, but right now he’s recovering from a minor injury. He broke his maiden last time out at Churchill Downs by a stunning 10 lengths, and earned a very fast beyer of 98. Look for him to pop up around February of March. Will Take Charge is another colt with potential as he finished second to Texas Bling in the Springboard Mile. He’s a half-brother to Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, and is being pointed towards the Smarty Jones Stakes. He hasn’t run a race nearly as fast as Titletown Five yet, but the horse could still be improving. Oxbow is the last of the trio that’s caught my eye. He recently won a maiden race at Churchill by four lengths, and followed that up with a solid fourth in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. All three of these horses could make major impacts at Oaklawn this year.
We can talk about the local horses all day, but it’s not a secret that shippers will be coming in to try to knock the locals off. One would be wise to keep an eye on Bob Baffert’s three-year olds as he loves coming to Oaklawn. Last year he won both running of the Southwest, The Rebel, and then ran one-two in the Arkansas Derby. At this point we have no idea who Baffert will send to any of these races, but you just have to be extremely aware when he does. Baffert ships to win, plain and simple.
Of course as we talked about with the fillies you never know at this point in the year who might develop into something special that hasn’t even ran yet. Early on in the workouts a horse that got a ton of hype was Marshall Raylan, who will be making his debut on Friday. He’s one you might want to put on your watch list. When looking at the workouts there are several horses that have either zero or one start that will be running early in the Maiden Special Weight races. My best advice is for you to pay close attention to those races as a star could be blooming at any moment. The mystery of who the next “big horse” will be is what makes this time of year special. Who will become Oaklawn’s next star?