Kicking off action on the Arkansas oval's road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the one-mile Smarty Jones was won last year by top sophomore Will Take Charge, now favored to receive an Eclipse Award as outstanding 3-year-old male at the Jan. 18 ceremony at Gulfstream Park.
Assigned highweight of 117 pounds and starting from the far outside under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, Coastline stumbled at the start of the Nov. 23 Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) and never recovered, winding up eighth of 10 in the 1 1/16-mile test as the 8-5 favorite. Trainer Mark Casse sends the son of Speightstown back to work in hopes of returning to previous form that brought a three-length victory in the Oct. 27 Street Sense Stakes going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs off a good maiden special weight score on Polytrack at Keeneland.
From the inside, many will take a look at Whispering Oaks Farm's D'cajun Cat, a Florida-bred son of D'wildcat who races for Steve Asmussen. After impressively breaking his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths at first asking going 5 1/2 furlongs at Churchill, the bay colt was fifth in the Bashford Manor Stakes (gr. III) at the Louisville oval before running third at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in the Dec. 21 Sugar Bowl Stakes behind Lecomte contender Albano.
The Virginia H. Terra Trust sends an intriguing contender in Illinois-bred A Step Ahead, full brother to grade I winner Giant Oak. Brian Williamson will saddle the Giant's Causeway colt, an Oct. 31 maiden winner at Hawthorne Race Course who was second last time out in the 1 1/16-mile Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity, also at Hawthorne. Francisco Torres picks up the mount from post 5; A Step Ahead carries 115 pounds.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who saddled Will Take Charge last year, has Zayat Stables' maiden Unstoppable Colby in the 9 hole with Jon Court in the irons as part of a 115-pound impost. With three outings under his belt but yet to see the winner's circle, the Pulpit colt finished second to Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) contender Gold Hawk Nov. 30 after setting the pace in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill while delivering his best finish thus far.
Another of interest is Windy Hill Farm's well-traveled Whyruawesome, fifth in the Delta Jackpot for trainer Anne Smith. The WhyWhyWhy gelding hasn't won since breaking his maiden first out Aug. 16 at Arlington Park but has been ambitiously placed by his connections. He was second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) at Arlington, 11th in the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, and fifth in a 1 1/16-mile allowance—all on Polytrack—before trying dirt in the Jackpot for the first time.