Race Previews

Smarty Jones Stakes Preview: Oaklawn Takes Center Stage

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Oaklawn is back, and as usual, the track has brought out the big stars.

A compact field of seven have entered the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, and Hall of Fame trainers Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, and Todd Pletcher have all lined up to take a shot at the first Kentucky Derby prep race of the meet. Hall of Fame jockeys Gary Stevens and John Velazquez will also ride in the race.

Let’s start with Baffert, who will send in Grade 3 Bob Hope runner-up Mourinho. The 3-year-old son of Super Saver ran well in that recent Del Mar effort but could not make up ground on the eventual winner, Greyvitos, in the stretch. However, Greyvitos came back to win the Springboard Mile at Remington Park from the 12 hole, which makes Mourinho’s runner-up effort look much better than what it originally did. He will break from post 4 and is expected to go to the front under jockey Drayden Van Dyke.

Pletcher was ultra-successful invading Oaklawn Park last year, as One Liner shipped in to take the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and Malagacy captured the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. He’ll kick off this meet at Oaklawn with shipper Navistar, who recently broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park by 1 1/2 lengths in his second career race. In his debut effort, he was second to the highly-regarded Mask, who came back to win the Mucho Macho Man Stakes last weekend. Pletcher’s top jockey, Velazquez, is coming in to ride.

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The out-of-town shippers will all have to beat local trainer Asmussen, who will start two colts in the race. Springboard Mile runner-up Combatant is the more highly-regarded of his two entries. He was bet down to favoritism in the Springboard Mile and ran well, but just couldn’t beat Greyvitos. Ricardo Santana, Jr., will have the mount. Turf star Tap Daddy is his other entry, who will be trying the dirt for the first time since his debut maiden race at Saratoga. His pedigree has flashes of both turf and dirt, so this experiment could go either way.

The field from the rail out for the Smarty Jones includes: Combatant, Lone Rock, Tap Daddy, Mourinho, Arched Feather, Navistar, and Bode’s Maker. Local post time for the race is 4:42 PM Central.

Top Choice

#4 Mourinho – Baffert, the king of Oaklawn, actually had an off-year in 2017, as he did not win any of the 3-year-old races. To make up for it, he’s started early this year, sending a horse to the Smarty Jones for only the second time. Many, including myself, feel that Mourinho will be more of the sprinting type, but I don’t believe that a mile is out of his realm. At Oaklawn, the mile race ends with a very short stretch, which usually favors horses on the lead, and Mourinho should be on the lead when turning for home. He seems to have more early speed than the rest of these, and if he breaks well, he could take this field wire-to-wire. This isn’t a world-beater like we’ve seen from Baffert in the past, but he might be just good enough to win a race of this caliber. His second-place effort to Greyvitos in the Bob Hope was a strong race.

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#6 Navistar – He’s a surprise entry to the race, as Pletcher is shipping him in very early on in the meet. This horse seems to be developing nicely after breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in his last start. On debut, he was defeated by Mask, won the Mucho Macho Man very impressively last weekend. Velazquez comes in to ride as well, so there are a lot of positive signs with this son of Union Rags. Nobody will be shocked if this horse comes in and wins. (Did not ship due to travel issues related to weather and will SCRATCH)

Exotic Plays

#1 Combatant – He entered his last start in the Springboard Mile with a lot of hype but ran into a monster race from Greyvitos. Combatant was a clear second, though, and was pinned inside for a lot of the race before getting out in the stretch and doing some solid running. I was hoping he would draw an outside post for this race, but once again, he’s stuck on the rail. However, this field isn’t quite as large as the Springboard Mile, so hopefully, he can make his way off the inside part of the track at some point. He’ll make noise on the Oaklawn 3-year-old trail, as he’s improving with each race.

Party Crashers

#3 Tap Daddy – It could go either way with this colt. He’s done his best running on the tur but will try the dirt here after his debut at Saratoga. There’s no doubt that the race didn’t go well for him, but he ran into a very tough field that day. His pedigree looks a little turfy, but there are also some signs that say he could take to the dirt. His connections are going to give it a shot here, and it’s the perfect time to try it. If he takes to the surface, he could make noise at a decent price.

Throw Outs

#2 Lone Rock – He was a big-time maiden special weight winner at Indiana Grand three races back, but struggled against stakes company in the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity next out at Keeneland. He got back on track a bit to finish second against allowance company in his last start at Churchill Downs, but this will be a tough chore for him. It’s a bonus, though, that Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens will be riding. (Also will SCRATCH after running 4th in a first-level allowance/optional claimer Saturday at Oaklawn Park)

#5 Arched Feather – After two poor efforts, this horse broke his maiden in his third attempt at a whopping 39-1 at Churchill Downs. He has steadily gotten better with each start, but this could be a little too much to ask from him. The competition will be tough compared to his other starts.

#7 Bode’s Maker – He was a bit intriguing heading into the Springboard Mile at Remington Park in his last race but failed to put up much of an effort in a seventh-place finish. It’s hard to get excited about him in this tough spot after that kind of race.

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