The connections for Brown Almighty have been planning their colt's dirt debut for months now, and on Jan. 21 their wait will be over when the colt makes his much anticipated start in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
First in a series of 3-year-old races leading toward the April 13 Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and the Triple Crown races beyond, the one-mile Smarty Jones is worth points of 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). With an approximate post time of 4:38 p.m. CST, the race drew a field of nine including West Coast invader Avare for last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winning trainer Doug O'Neill. The 122-pound highweight is King Henny, from the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen.
For Brown Almighty, it will be the first dirt start in a career that has already seen five outings. Trainer Tim Ice, who conditioned 2009 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Summer Bird, sent the son of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown out for the finishing touches for his dirt bow Jan. 17, getting three furlongs in :36 2/5 at the Hot Springs, Ark. oval.
"The workout went well," Ice said. "He actually ended up getting behind horses and getting more dirt kicked in his face. Overall, I thought it was a great work, and it gave him a little more experience with the dirt hitting him in the face. All systems are a go. I think it's very important, especially for young horses and for him more so, because he's been racing on the turf and hasn't had that kickback. So, for him to get that in his face in the mornings, I think it's going to help him more in the afternoon just to be used to it, where he'll run through it and it doesn't bother him."
Brown Almighty was the first stakes winner for his sire when he took the Sunny's Halo Stakes at Louisiana Downs, and, like his sire, he raced exclusively on turf as a juvenile. He registered a runner-up finish in the Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland and was ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) last out after getting steadied at the eighth pole. Now the question will be whether he can emulate Big Brown's dirt success.
"You kind of put the pressure on yourself," Ice remarked. "As far as everybody is concerned, if we've done our job, he's going to go out and do his."
Brown Almighty will be ridden by Corey Nakatani from post 8 under 117 pounds. He faces stiff competition from Avare, 4 1/4-length winner of the off-the-turf Eddie Logan Stakes Dec. 29 at Santa Anita Park going the Smarty Jones distance, and from King Henny, who was placed first after the disqualification of Mr. Bandini's Band in the Jan. 5 Big Drama Stakes sprinting seven furlongs at Delta Downs.
Majestic Racing Stable and RAP Racing's Avare carries 119 pounds, including jockey Kevin Krigger, from post 3. Erv Woolsey and Keith Asmussen's King Henny and Robby Albarado will depart post 7.
Another with stakes experience is Winning Horses Stable and Choctaw Racing Stable's Officer Alex, one-length winner of the Dec. 8 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes going seven furlongs at Parx Racing. The son of Officer, trained by Lynn Whiting, breezed five furlongs in :59 3/5 Jan. 17 at Oaklawn in preparation for the Smarty Jones.
Also contesting the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event are three who ran in the Dec. 9 Remington
Springboard Mile Stakes last time out. Hall's Family Trust sends out the winner, Texas Bling, a Texas-bred son of Too Much Bling trained by Danele Durham who upset at odds of 128-1 while finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of maiden winner Will Take Charge. Razorback Futurity winner Best of Birdstone was fourth in that event in which King Henny ran fifth before coming back in the Big Drama.
Completing the field are Jer-Mar Stable's allowance winner Stormy Holiday, and maiden winner Always in a Tiz for MeB Racing Stables and Brooklyn Boyz Stables.