Oaklawn Park’s road to the Triple Crown, which culminates with the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) this spring, begins Jan. 16 with the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes. The horse to watch is the speedy filly On Fire Baby, who closed out her juvenile campaign with back-to-back graded stakes wins at Churchill Downs.
Anita Cauley’s On Fire Baby, whose only loss in four starts came in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades (gr. I) on Polytrack, has had three solid works over the Oaklawn surface since arriving in Hot Springs in mid-December. Trainer Gary Hartlage does not fear taking on the boys, saying the main reason he chose the Smarty Jones was the one-mile distance. The first race in Oaklawn's filly series, the Dixie Belle, is six furlongs.
“She’s so ready,” said Hartlage. “She just looks so good and comes home so easily.”
A field of 12 was drawn for the Smarty Jones, which has a 4:33 CST post.
Among the colts hoping to upset the likely favorite is Reckless Jerry, owned by country music star Toby Keith’s Dream Walkin Farms and Davis Lani. The Cactus Ridge colt enters the race off a second-place finish in Remington Park’s Springboard Mile, the same race that produced Caleb's Posse.
“He's training really good and seems to be getting a little better all the time like you’re supposed to see,” said trainer Kenny Smith. “He really doesn't do much of anything wrong at this point. He has his mind on racing and training. He's really pretty professional for as young as he is. He's looking like the farther he runs the better he's going to get.”
Trainer Dallas Stewart has sent Laurie's Rocket from the Fair Grounds in hopes of collecting the Bluegrass Cat colt’s first stakes win after several big dances. As a 2-year-old Laurie's Rocket ran off the board in the grade I Hopeful and Champagne stakes and the grade III Delta Jackpot before ending his season with a second in the Sugar Bowl Stakes.
Other colts to garner some attention in the Martlin Luther King Day feature are the D. Wayne Lukas trainee Optimizer, who was fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) last November; Jake Mo, fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint and sixth in the Delta Jackpot; minor stakes winner No Spin; and impressive maiden winner Junebugred, who will be ridden by Gulfstream Park-based jockey Joe Bravo.
All are hoping to make the Smarty Jones a steppingstone to Oaklawn's big event for 3-year-olds, the Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 14.
$100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (Race 8, 4:33 p.m.), 3YO, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Laurie's Rocket (KY), B J Hernandez Jr., 117, D Stewart
2. Junebugred (KY), J Bravo, 115, S Hobby
3. Prince Cheval (IL), G Kuntzweiler, 115, G Allen
4. No Spin (KY), C Hill, 119, T A Ice
5. Fastestwhogetspaid (ON), I Ocampo, 117, B Williamson
6. Optimizer (KY), T J Thompson 115, D W Lukas
7. Copus (IL), J E Felix, 117, B Rainwater
8. Jake Mo (KY), M C Berry, 119, A Milligan
9. Hard Nosed (KY), R Santana Jr., 115, R Moquett
10. On Fire Baby (KY), J M Johnson, 117, G G Hartlage
11. King Coral (KY), L G Saez, 117, A Milligan
12. Reckless Jerry (KY), S Laviolette, 117, K P Smith