MLK Day Special – 2018 Smarty Jones Stakes Preview


January 14th 2018 – Updated January 15th

The Road to the Kentucky Derby trail continues tomorrow on Martin Luther King Day at Oaklawn Park. Another 17 Derby points are up for grabs (10-4-2-1). Although this is a small seven horse field, it should be an interesting race with entries from Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen.

The Smarty Jones Stakes is named after one of my all-time personal favorites. The Pennsylvania-bred who swept the Southwest Stakes, the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in 2004 en route to winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes that year. His bid for the Triple Crown came up short by a length in the Belmont Stakes with a second place finish to Birdstone.

Below are the post-positions, weights, jockey assignments and morning line odds.

The Smarty Jones Stakes

The Smarty Jones Stakes – 1 Mile – Race #8 at Oaklawn Park – Post-Time: Monday January 15th at 4:38 PM CST. Televised by TVG

1. Combatant (115) – Santana Jr/Asmussen – 2/1
2. Lone Rock (115) – Stevens/Van Meter – 12/1 (Scratched)
3. Tap Daddy (117) – Contreras/Asmussen – 8/1
4. Mourinho (115) – Van Dyke/Baffert – 3/2
5. Arched Feather (115) – Court/Frederick – 30/1
6. Navistar (115) – Velazquez/Pletcher – 5/2 (Scratched)
7. Bode’s Maker (115) – Wethey Jr/Milligan – 30/1

Race Commentary: The Bob Baffert trainee Mourinho is the race favorite at 3/2 odds. He has the highest E Speed Figure (104) in the field. Mourinho has two second place finishes in his last two starts (Speakeasy Stakes and Bob Hope Stakes). From Steve Asmussen’s barn, Combatant is the 2nd race favorite at 2/1 odds. Combatant finished 2nd in his last start–the Remington Springboard Mile back in December. Asmussen’s other entry, Tap Daddy (8/1), won in his last start on turf at Churchill Downs. Prior to this start, he finished 2nd in the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (8 1/2 furlongs). 

There are high expectations for the Todd Pletcher trained colt Navistar. The son of Union Rags was purchased for $900,000 as a 2 year-old in the OBS March 2017 sale. He will be ridden by Johnny V (John Velazquez) so I suspect he might be the live race favorite with bettors come post-time. Just remember that Navistar and Mourinho will both be making their two-turn debuts.

Rounding out the field, Lone Rock (12/1), Arched Feather (30/1) and Bode’s Maker (30/1). Gary Stevens will ride Lone Rock who had a fourth place finish at Oaklawn Park in his last start. Arched Feather broke his maiden won in his last start at Churchill Downs at 8 1/2 furlongs. 

As I stated in my previous blog, you never know what to expect with these January Derby trail races. I prefer to watch and see how this plays out rather than wager anything big. Crunching numbers, this appears to be a really good race on paper as the top four horses in this field (Mourinho, Combatant, Navistar and Tap Daddy) all have very similar closing speeds. So I am expecting a close race. And my hunch is that there are at least two future Kentucky Derby runners in this field.

Firenze Fire Wins the 2018 Jerome Stakes

Firenze Fire finished strong down the stretch in yesterday’s Jerome Stakes (shown below). Barring injury, pencil him in for this year’s Kentucky Derby. He currently sits tied for 2nd in Derby points with 20.

On the Docket…

My next blog will preview the 2018 Pegasus World Cup contenders.