Undefeated Smarty Jones showed an impressive turn of foot coming out of the final turn and held the closing Borrego off through the stretch for a comfortable 1 1/2-length win in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park Saturday.
A crowd of 62,264 roared with approval as the popular colt drove toward the finish of the 1 1/8-mile test.
Philadelphia rider Stewart Elliott broke the Pennsylvania-bred son of Elusive Quality
quickly from the outside post in the field of 11, and Smarty Jones overcame a wide run into the clubhouse turn. He posted a final time of 1:49 2/5 on a muddy track. Borrego was second, 1 1/2 length in front of Pro Prado.
The victory was the first in a graded stakes for Smarty Jones, who has reeled off six wins in a row, and assures the chestnut colt of a spot in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) May 1.
In fact, the Someday Farm's homebred Smarty Jones, who is trained by John Servis, could go to Kentucky as the favorite. If Smarty Jones wins at Churchill, he would become the first undefeated Derby winner since Seattle Slew in 1977.
The win also puts Smarty Jones in line for Oaklawn's $5 million "Centennial Bonus'' if he can win the Kentucky Derby. The bonus was instituted this year to commemorate the track's 100th birthday. The first two legs of the bonus were the Rebel, which Smarty Jones won on March 20, and the Arkansas Derby.
Smarty Jones was the only favorite to win in the three major Kentucky Derby prep races Saturday. In the other two, Tapit beat favored Master David in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct and The Cliff's Edge ran down Lion Heart in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.
Smarty Jones came out running and was three wide into the first turn as early leader Purge raced off the rail a bit through an opening quarter mile of :22 3/5. Purge and Smarty Jones continued to go at it on the front end through a half in :46 4/5 and three-quarters in 1:11 3/5.
Coming out of the turn, Smarty Jones bounded away from Purge and hit the stretch three lengths in front. Borrego, who rated in third at the rail with Shadowland on his outside on the turn for Victor Espinoza, took up the chase but failed to make an impression until the very late stages. Pro Prado, who had a ground-saving trip after taking back after the start, rallied along the inside for John McKee, but lost out in the run for second.
Smarty Jones earned $600,000 for the win, which improved his career bankroll to $878,355.
He paid $4, $3 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. Borrego returned $3.20 and $2.80. Pro Prado's show was $4.40.
Harvard Avenue finished fourth, followed by Purge, Mambo Train, Shadowland, Every Advantage, Mr. Jester, Tricky Taboo and Hasslefree.
A winning $2 Big 3 Pick 3 (Wood Memorial, Toyota Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby) ticket with Tapit and The Cliff's Edge returned $359.
There were two other stakes races held at Oaklawn.
Timothy Doocy rode Two Down Automatic to a 5 3/4 -length victory in the mile $75,000 Northern Spur Breeders' Cup for 3-year-olds. Pro Prado finished strong for second, holding off Level Playingfield.
Two Down Automatic, second to Smarty Jones in the Southwest on Feb. 28, returned $4.20, $3 and $2.20, Proper Prado paid $4.80 and $3, and Level Playingfield returned $3.20.
Pat Day, Oaklawn's leading jockey from 1983 to 1994, returned Saturday to take Tee's Pearl to victory in the $75,000 Instant Racing Breeders' Cup for trainer Lynn Whiting. Day rode her sire, Lil E. Tee, to victory in the 1992 Kentucky Derby.
Tee's Pearl returned $5.60, $4 and $3.20 in the mile race for 3-year-old fillies. Pilfer paid $11.60 and $6.60, and Cedar Summer returned $7.80 for third.