The Smarty Jones $150,000

1/16/2017 Oaklawn Park-Race 8

The Smarty Jones-$150,000

1 Mile on Dirt for 3 Year-Olds

Post Time: 2:38 P.M. PST

Analysis by Michael Patricks

The tenth running of the Smarty Jones will take place on Monday at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The race is named in honor of the Keystone bred that blazed a trail through Oaklawn Park’s three year-old prep races before nearly taking down the Triple Crown in 2004.  In the Belmont Stakes, Smarty Jones was vanquished in the last sixteenth of a mile after setting some cutting fractions under jockey Stewart Elliott, ultimately giving up the ghost to Birdstone at a very big price that day.   Thirty-two hooves will pound from the eight specimens who have signed on to contest the eight furlongs.  Which three year-old will emerge from this event and stamp himself as a player in future Triple Crown prep races?  Let’s take a look…

1-Petrov 5/2 ML- Stanislav Petrov was the duty officer at the command center for the Soviet-based Oko nuclear war center in 1983 when their warning system malfunctioned, declaring that the United States had fired up to five missiles on the Soviets.  Petrov deemed the reports to be false and did not fire missiles on the United States, thus avoiding the possible outbreak of nuclear war between the countries.   The equine carrying his same name won his debut with a comprehensive and sweeping move from off the pace at Churchill Downs, leading to a better than three length victory.  The gray son of Flatter then tried Stakes ponies while sprinting last time at Aqueduct, missing by a head after breaking from the fence while tracking leisurely fractions.  It’s certainly encouraging to see a rider like Jose Ortiz make the pilgrimage from New York to Arkansans to get atop this one’s back.  Trainer Ron Moquett always figures prominent with his runners at the Festival of the South and this horse figures to be no exception.  Like his namesake, let’s hope Jose Ortiz practices a little patience up the backstretch and angles this guy out for some run turning for home on his way to victory; the selection with a ground saving trip.

2-Warrior’s Club 7/2 ML- Was unable to grab his diploma in five consecutive maiden special weight races for Coach D. Wayne Lukas.  Warrior’s Club then tried restricted stakes company and triumphed in front-running fashion, defeating 11 rivals in the process.  Predictably, Coach D. Wayne got a little excited off the big graduation effort against winners and dropped this guy in behind enemy lines at the Grade II level, where Warrior’s Club stalked the pace before eventually surrendering to the immensely-talented McCraken, ultimately saving the show dough in a desperate photo.  “Coach” has uncharacteristically given this guy a brief freshening before the rigors of his three year-old season begin and he arrives in Arkansas as a fresh horse with four works over the local strip.  Robby Albarado enthusiasts will be pleased to see him stick around to ride this guy and he figures to likely be amped up on adrenaline early in the race from the layoff.  Warrior’s Club will have plenty of early company from Uncontested up the backstretch and given that he may be a little too keen  to get on with it off the layoff, I’m inclined to side against this one on Monday; expected pace casualty.

3- Cu Rahy 15/1 ML- Maryland-bred son of Curlin was blown off the track in his debut sprinting at Lone Star Park and then was shipped to Oklahoma where he graduated in the slop as he stretched out and tried two turns for the first time.  It’s been tough sledding for this guy since then, having lost three straight against Remington Park stakes-company.  He closed good ground while sprinting in the Kip Deville and Clever Trevor, but his backers couldn’t find him with a flash light and search warrant last time in the Springboard Mile.  Though his rider finds it in his heart to stick around for another leg up on Cu Rahy, I can’t find it in mine to give him much courtesy in this spot.  He appears to be best served as a late running sprinter and unless a monsoon washes over the Oaklawn Park surface shortly before post time, I would recommend you draw the proverbial line through this guy as he just doesn’t appear to be fast enough; he’s on the outside looking in and I’m not drinking the contrarian Kool-Aid.

4-Rowdy the Warrior 6/1 ML- Oklahoma-bred is yet another runner in this cast who seems to be dependent on pace to set up his late charge.  Though he dusted Cu Rahy last time out in the Springboard Mile, he was kept at bay by the leaders rather easily as he attempted to rally into slow fractions after suffering a wide draw.  This is another step up the class ladder with Kentucky Derby points on the line, thus, he’ll have to elevate his game to make an impression on the top placings.  The good news for ‘Rowdy is that no one else in this field has done anything other than break their maiden either; thus, he has a chance to make some headway if he can lift his legs just a bit more.  Trainer Donnie Von Hemel traditionally makes his hay at Oaklawn Park so the connections are on his side.  From a handicapping standpoint, the distinct feeling I’m left with is that with the short stretch of the one mile run, ‘Rowdy will have too much to do when he turns for home.  He’s not without a shot, but Rowdy the Warrior is going to have to strap on all his battle armor and put on the full war paint if he’s going to have a say in this one; mixed signals.

5-Unbridled Eagle 8/1 ML- Had been absolutely annihilated in his first three starts against winners, no doubt leading to a change in plans and a subsequent trainer change to Steve Asmussen.  Reviewing his recent work tab, he appears to be showing some life in the morning and this fella no doubt appreciated the brief respite after running six times in a 15 week span.  Not entirely sure if he hated the turf or if he was simply outclassed– or a combination of the two.  It’s encouraging to see him return to the dirt and there are no monsters in here– though last time on the dirt he was knocked around like a piñata by McCraken in the Street Sense, beaten to a pulp some 26-plus lengths.  First time Steve Asmussen is always an angle worth diving deeply into and it would not be a shock to see a reversal of form on Monday.  This guy may need one more start before being fully cranked, but he certainly has the look of a party crasher to me.  The downside is that Asmussen and Vazquez were 1-for-29 together in 2016; license to improve here but don’t jump head first into too shallow para-mutuel waters.

6-Uncontested 2/1 ML- Suffered a very wide draw last time at Churchill in his debut against winners, (a Grade II at Churchill Downs) setting some very aggressive fractions before ultimately yielding to McCraken and Warrior’s Club.  He should find it a lot easier to be on the engine today given his speed and draw and he’s a clear threat to take these around the track gate to wire.  Trainer Wayne Catalano brought this guy to Hot Springs before Christmas and he has three drills over the surface including back-to-back bullet works, including one from the gate.  Uncontested has a useful pedigree being by Tiz Wonderful and out of a Lil E. Tee mare, but pedigree snobs may feel that his upside pales to that of his foes.  Uncontested will no doubt appreciate the short stretch of the one mile journey, and as razor sharp as he is, he will take some beating on the front end; all eyes will be focused on him up the backstretch but he must avoid dueling with Warrior’s Club and Love That Lute; logical fit.

7-Romeo O Romeo 12/1 ML- Canadian-bred son of Macho Uno began his career sprinting in the Midwest at Arlington Park, garnering his diploma on the Chicago circuit in his unveiling before picking up a check in his Grade II debut in his second start.  ‘Romeo seemed to have some precocious talent early in his two year-old season but has gradually been having a tougher time finishing up his races as his connections continue to up the ante with the company he’s been keeping.  His most recent race was against Uncontested in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club and the comment line says it all, “Early speed, folded up”.  He’s being asked to make up 21 lengths on Warrior’s Club, who I’m also not very high on in this spot, and he’s being asked to do it off the layoff with only two workouts spanning the past 30 days.  This horse should be competing in a first level allowance race at this point—not a race that’s on the road to the Kentucky Derby.  He’s not the impossible dream, but it’s more likely than not that if you go to the window and empty out your pockets to try to get even for the day on him, you’ll be despondently muttering, “Romeo O Romeo-Wherefore art thou Romeo?” at the top of the lane; enough said?

8-Love That Lute 20/1 ML- Pulled off the mild caper last time after putting the hood on to grab his diploma in start number two.  His victory was a comprehensive one as he kept the field safely at bay, grabbing the lead from his inside draw en route to his score against maiden claimers.  Now, he’s ambitiously placed into this spot where Derby points are on the line and it looks pretty grim for him on Monday.  Love That Lute may try and get to the front, but he’s certainly not the proven conveyance on the front end that Uncontested is.  In addition, this horse in only his third start has not demonstrated an ability to pass a horse in a race, something he may have to do in order to make headway in this spot.  Should the connections decide to put him on the lead at all costs and see what happens, it’s safe to say he’ll be through after six furlongs, and subsequently will be run over when they turn for home.  It’s nice to see a long string of drills off the maiden-breaker, but it would be even nicer to see him running in a $40,000 starter allowance race; prospects appear about as bleak as a gerbil’s in a bat house.

Consensus: 1-6-5-2