On a special Martin Luther King Jr. Day program, seven 3-year-olds will look to distinguish themselves on Oaklawn Park’s first leg of their trail to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at one mile.
Fans making a trek to the Hot Springs, Ark., track will receive a free Zenyatta bobblehorse with paid admission while supplies last. Gates open at 11 a.m. CST with a first race set to go off at 1:05 p.m. Post time for the Smarty Jones is approximately 4:33 p.m.
Leading the field in the Smarty Jones, the first off three stakes leading up to the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 16, is Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Grant Jack, installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite. The son of Harlan's Holiday enters the race after winning Remington Park’s Springboard Mile Dec. 11. One race earlier, he finished second to fellow Smarty Jones contender Caleb's Posse in the Nov. 6 Clever Trevor Stakes. Jockey Cliff Berry, aboard for those last two starts, climbs back on board Monday.
“We were encouraged by his race in the Springboard because he was rank early, but seemed to settle and he seemed to learn a lot,” said trainer Bret Calhoun. “It looked like he was going to drop out of the race because he was so rank. It was like he was frustrated, but he settled down and straightened himself out. That's what you like to see and it's looking like he's a horse on the improve. At this time of year that's what you're hoping for.”
Trainer Donnie Von Hemel is hoping that after the Smarty Jones he’ll be able to throw out the Springboard in which Caleb’s Posse finished seventh as the favorite after defeating Grant Jack by 5 ½ lengths one race earlier. The Springboard was his first off-the-board performance in six career starts. In September, he became a horse to watch when he finished third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) and came back a race later to win an allowance race at Keeneland before taking the Clever Trevor with authority. Jockey Eddie Razo Jr. has the mount on the 5-2 co-second choice.
Trainer Jinks Fire, who kicked off the Oaklawn meeting Jan. 15 with a winning 3-year-old, hopes to carry that momentum into the Smarty Jones with Archarcharch, the other 5-2 choice on the morning line, and Bluegrass Bull. Archarcharch most recently won the Dec. 18 Sugar Bowl stakes at Fair Grounds in just his second career start, while Bluegrass Bull looks to rebound from a poor performance in the Springboard.
“We’ve been anxious to see them run,” said Fires Jan. 16. “It’s been difficult with the weather the last week, but we are like everybody else trying to see how we would do getting back to it. It feels good to get it started like this.”
“In his first race, he was in a lot of trouble,” said Fires of Archarcharch. “He’s such a relaxed horse, and when they opened the gate, he was flat-footed and then a few jumps in he got shuffled around pretty good. Then, when he did get going, he got sandwiched between two horses. After all that, a lot of young horses would have hung it up, but he gutted it out and we think he was getting to the winner.”
While Archarcharch proved he could bounce back from a tough trip, Bluegrass Bull has the Smarty Jones to prove the same thing after getting hit in the face by a clump of dirt early in the Springboard and fading to 10th.
“He came back and his eye was almost closed,” said Fires. “It happened on the first turn and he backed out almost right away. A lot of the other horses in that race seemed to react the same way and the winner (Grant Jack) got a smart ride and circled the field. He stayed out of the dirt.”
Smarty Jones Stakes, $100,000, Oaklawn Park, 3-Year-Olds, One Mile (Race 8, post 4:33 CST):
PP – Horse - Jockey - Wgt. - ML
1 - Caleb’s Posse, E. Razo Jr., 119, 5-2
2 - Bluegrass Bull, Gabriel Saez, 117, 12-1
3 - Grant Jack, M. Berry, 119 2-1
4 - Archarcharch, Jon Court, 119, 5-2
5 - Dreaminofthewin, Luis Quinonez, 117, 5-1
6 - Make it Roses, Chris Emigh, 115, 20-1
7 - Bonaroo, Terry Thompson, 115, 12-1