The much anticipated 2019 Oaklawn season kicks off Friday with a special 12:30 p.m. first post and the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, the first of three prep races leading up to the April 13 Arkansas Derby (G1) and subsequent Triple Crown races. The meet runs until Saturday, May 4, Kentucky Derby Day.
Dwight Pruett's lightly raced Gray Attempt is the 5-2 program favorite for the Smarty Jones Stakes, a 1-mile race that headlines a nine-race opening-day program.
Probable post time for the Smarty Jones, which goes as race 8, is 3:52 p.m. (Central). Gates open Friday at 11 a.m. Mostly sunny skies and temperatures approaching 40 degrees are forecast Friday by weather.com.
The Smarty Jones offers 17 points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.
Inaugurated in 2008, the Smarty Jones honors the 2004 Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male who won Oaklawn's Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby before coming within a length of sweeping the Triple Crown.
Gray Attempt, who is trained by Jinks Fires of Hot Springs has won 2 of 3 career starts, including the $74,250 Sugar Bowl Stakes Dec. 22 at Fair Grounds. Gray Attempt has led at every point of call in both career victories and will be racing around two turns for the first time Friday.
“I don't think it will be a problem,” Fires said. “Acts like he'll go around two turns.”
Gray Attempt completed final major preparations for the Smarty Jones with a 5-furlong bullet workout (1:00.20) last Friday morning under regular exercise rider Chel-c Bailey. Gray Attempt breezed from the half-mile pole to the 7-furlong pole, Fires said, in order to replicate racing around the clubhouse turn for the first time.
“Trying to make sure he knew how to run into that turn, because that turns back pretty quick sometimes,” Fires said.
Gray Attempt is scheduled to break from post 8 under regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan and carry 119 pounds.
“Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad,” Fires said of the outside draw. “If you get away real good, that's good. But if you don't, then you can get hung outside there.”
Fires and Pruett teamed to win the 2016 Smarty Jones with Discreetness.
The projected nine-horse Smarty Jones lineup from the rail out: Long Range Toddy, Richard Eramia to ride, 122 pounds 4-1; Sleepy Eyes Todd, David Cabrera, 115, 30-1; Super Steed, Terry Thompson, 119, 9-2; Six Shooter, Stewart Elliott, 122, 6-1; Boldor, Ramon Vazquez, 115, 8-1; Forloveofcountry, Joe Bravo, 119, 12-1; Bankit, Ricardo Santana Jr., 119, 7-2; Gray Attempt, Shaun Bridgmohan, 119, 5-2; and Jack Van Berg, Jon Court, 115, 20-1.
Long Range Toddy and Bankit finished 1-2, respectively, in the $400,000 Springboard Mile Dec. 16 at Remington Park for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen; Six Shooter, won the $75,000 Big Drama Stakes Jan. 5 at Delta Downs for trainer Paul Holthus of Hot Springs; and Super Steed was fourth as the favorite in the Sugar Bowl for trainer Larry Jones.
Owned by Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark., Long Range Toddy is seeking his fourth consecutive victory and is unbeaten around two turns. The Take Charge Indy colt's Equibase speed figures have improved with each start – 60, 80, 88 and 98 for his head victory in the Springboard, in which he earned 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
“He's just gotten better and better,” Asmussen said.
Horton won the 2013 Smarty Jones with Will Take Charge, who would earn an Eclipse Award that year as the country's champion 3-year-old male, and co-owns Bankit with Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC (Ron and Joan Winchell). Bankit won the $256,875 Sleepy Hollow Stakes for New York-breds Oct. 20 at Belmont Park and closed with a rush to just miss in the Springboard Mile.
“He didn't have a bad trip, he just didn't get up,” Asmussen said. “But, he was flying late. He waited a bit and flew home.”
Super Steed is trying to rebound from a sluggish fourth-place finish as the even-money favorite in the Sugar Bowl. Trainer Larry Jones said the Super Saver colt was “puny” before the 6-furlong race but has bounced back well for his two-turn debut.
“He's doing good,” Jones said.
Super Steed broke his maiden in allowance company Nov. 24 at Churchill Downs, besting Boldor, another Asmussen trainee, by six lengths.
Sleepy Eyes Todd exits a debut victory Oct. 27 at Remington Park for trainer Miguel Angel Silva. Forloveofcountry will be making his stakes debut on dirt for trainer Jimmy DiVito. Jack Van Berg, fifth behind Super Steed and Beholder Nov. 24, is cross-entered in Saturday's seventh race, a first-level allowance event for 3-year-olds at a mile, for trainer Tom Van Berg.
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