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HOT SPRINGS, AR – After seeing through one of the most unique and historic meets of all time last year, Oaklawn Park is back for another exciting season when the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes headlines the 2021 Opening Day Friday.
A strong field of seven will contest the event, which will go off as race eight on a strong nine-race card. The Smarty Jones is the first of four local Kentucky Derby (G1) prep races. Post time is 4:11 PM CT.
Leading the charge is the Brad Cox-trained Caddo River, who enters the contest after a flashy blowout maiden-breaking score at Churchill Downs last time out. Florent Geroux retains the mount as Caddo River breaks from post 7.
Trainer Steve Asmussen always has a say in things here and has two entries, topped by Cowan. He did most of his best running last year on turf, including a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1), but he was second last time out in the Remington Park Springboard Mile. He’ll have Ricardo Santana Jr. up as he breaks from post 3.
The mystery entry is Moonlite Strike, who ships in from Florida for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. The Liam’s Map colt has won 2 straight including an optional claiming event at Gulfstream Park at this distance last time. Joe Talamo picks up the mount and will break from post 6.
The full field from the rail out: Martini Blu, Lawlessness, Cowan, Big Thorn, Hardly Swayed, Moonlite Strike, and Caddo River.
#7 Caddo River – On paper, he looks like a complete slam dunk. He has the most powerful connections and was ultra-impressive last time out, winning a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs by 9 1/2 lengths. He could also be the lone speed, which will make him especially dangerous with Oaklawn Park’s short stretch when going a 1-mile distance. No matter how you look at it, he seems like a major standout.
#6 Moonlite Strike – His connections made us look twice. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. sends him to Oaklawn Park after winning back to back in Florida including going gate to wire against a solid field. He seems like the logical alternative to the favorite and offers the most intrigue in this suspect field.
#3 Cowan – It will be interesting to gauge his performance after he stretched out and finished second in the Springboard Mile Stakes. His best efforts had come turf sprinting, making his Springboard appearance surprising, but he showed enough in that spot to think that he can hit the board here – especially since this field came up a bit weak compared to other years.
#4 Big Thorn – He debuts for the Asmussen barn here after running sixth last time out in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. Before that effort, he won 2 straight at Gulfstream Park West, so he has some talent. If Asmussen can move him up a bit, then he could slightly impact the race.
#1 Martini Blu – He offers a bit of intrigue after winning on debut at Hawthorne by over 5 lengths. He definitely gets thrown into the deep end of the pool here, but he appears to be the value horse on paper. Still, it’s hard to know what to expect from him in this tougher spot.
#5 Hardly Swayed – Winning 2 in a row at Mahoning Valley has him aiming for bigger and better things here, but he must stretch out to a mile for the first time and this is a big jump in competition. He’s on the outside looking in until he proves himself.
#2 Lawlessness – It’s going to be hard for him to go from running third in a one-turn allowance at Hawthorne to making an impact against this group. It’s hard to blame his connections for taking a chance against a short field, but he looks overmatched.
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