Our TimeformUS Derby Preps series continues with Oaklawn Park’s first stepping-stone to the Kentucky Derby, Friday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones at one mile.
Steve Asmussen holds a very strong hand in this race, as he sends out a third of the 9-horse field, and each member of his trio has a legitimate chance to win. However, they will all be pursuing likely favorite Gray Attempt, who is exiting a strong winning performance in last month’s Sugar Bowl at the Fair Grounds. He and a few others in this field will be stretching out in distance for the first time.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, with Gray Attempt (#8) securing a slight early advantage over Jack Van Berg (#9) as the Asmussen runners – especially Long Range Toddy (#1) and Boldor (#5) – line up in behind. While Asmussen’s third entrant Bankit (#7) is also shown relatively close to the pace, his former speed-obsessed running style has significantly transformed in recent starts. He now figures to be one that would benefit from an honest early tempo, along with a horse such as Super Steed (#3).
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, LONG RANGE TODDY (4-1): He and stablemate Bankit hit the wire together in the Springboard Mile last month, as this son of Will Take Charge narrowly held on for the victory. Dismissed at 18-1 that day off a trio of local Remington Park starts, he used his ample early speed to secure a good position in a crowded field that many horses found difficult to negotiate. After saving ground early, Long Range Toddy was seamlessly worked into the clear in upper stretch by Richard Eramia, and that perfect journey made the difference in the end. This colt has been steadily improving his TimeformUS Speed Figures with each start and he figures to only get better as the distances continue to increase. A Willis Horton homebred, he is by Travers winner Will Take Charge out of an accomplished turf-routing dam, who herself is out of $800,000 earner Pleasant Temper. Unlike a few other forwardly placed runners, this colt has already proven that he has no problem rating. If he breaks as alertly as he usually does from this inside draw, it’s highly possible that another outstanding trip will be forthcoming. A strong contender.
#2, SLEEPY EYES TODD (30-1): He was visually impressive in his maiden win at Remington Park, in which he closed from well behind. However, he received plenty of pace ahead of him that day and he defeated a field of inferior quality. This one still has much to prove. Pass.
#3, SUPER STEED (9-2): This colt traded decisions with today’s rival Boldor in his first two career starts. He was somewhat unlucky to lose his career debut as jockey Gabriel Saez made the risky decision to sneak through inside of the Asmussen runner at the top of the stretch. Super Steed was put into very tight quarters all the way through the lane and came up short in the end. Despite having lost that unveiling, Super Steed followed Boldor directly into allowance company and asserted his superiority with a 6-length romp in the slop, overcoming trouble at the start to win going away. He was understandably bet down to even-money favoritism in his stakes debut last time after such a visually impressive score, but he was unable to build upon his Churchill Downs performance while beaten 7 lengths by Gray Attempt. Now he moves to his fourth different racetrack in as many starts while stretching out around two turns for the first time. This colt clearly possesses some ability, but one must wonder if he moves up on a sloppy track, as is the case for many progeny of Super Saver. The going is likely to be fast on Friday, and others have more convincing pedigrees for the stretch-out. Tough call
#4, SIX SHOOTER (6-1): I’m fairly surprised to see him as short as 6-1 on the morning line. Based on my assessment of his past performances, he appears to have his work cut out for him. He did work out a wide trip in the Springboard Mile, but he was no match for the top two finishers while fading badly through the lane. That poor effort was sandwiched between two wins, but both were earned against weaker foes. Pass.
#5, BOLDOR (8-1): This son of Munnings has been well meant from the start after selling for $700,000 on the heels of a strong OBS Sales workout earlier in his 2-year-old season. While he has run fairly well in his two career starts, he was somewhat lucky to beat Super Steed in his debut and was no match for that rival when they met again at Churchill Downs. To Boldor’s credit, he may not have appreciated rallying up the rail in his second start after showing speed on debut. On the other hand, he’s not exactly bred to improve with added distance and the projected fast pace could make his job awfully difficult. A minor award may be the ceiling.
#6, FORLOVEOFCOUNTRY (12-1): Judging him solely off his 23-1 upset at Churchill Downs last time, you can make the case that he’s a fringe player in this spot. That 97 TimeformUS Speed Figure certainly places him in the second tier of contenders. While he had run admirably in a few turf starts, it’s possible that he just wanted to get back on dirt all along. The only issue with that argument is that both of his dirt starts have come over sloppy sealed tracks at Churchill Downs and he’s yet to encounter fast going. Sometimes turf horses are able to translate their form to one type of dirt surface and not the other. I can’t fault anyone for wanting to take a shot with one of the few viable longshots in an otherwise straightforward race. However, I need to see him do it again. Using underneath.
#7, BANKIT (7-2): This colt’s two most recent starts have been pleasant surprises to me. It’s not necessarily shocking that he ran well in those races – he has always shown high ability – yet it’s the manner in which he accomplished those results that generates optimism for his future prospects. When this New York-bred began his career early last summer, he presented himself as your typical speed-crazy 2-year-old; one who would do well in summer races and struggle when he could no longer rely on his precocity. Everything seemed to be playing out as any cynic would expect when he faded badly on the stretch-out to 7 furlongs in the Bertram F. Bongard. However, his connections made the decision to change up his running style when he reappeared in the Sleepy Hollow. Usually such drastic alterations fail miserably, but this colt handled the change of tactics like an old professional, running the best race of his career while drawing off to an impressive score. Some might have argued that he was lucky to take advantage of a fast pace (indicated by a red color-coded pace figure in TimeformUS PPs) in that Sleepy Hollow. Yet he disproved that theory when he repeated the same feat at Remington Park. This time, not only did he close from well back in the pack, he showed a willingness to weave his way through traffic and make multiple moves into a pace that did not favor horses with his running style. He was unlucky to lose that race to his stablemate, but he still earned a 106 TimeformUS Speed Figure, tied for the highest in this field. Needless to say, I’ve been converted into a believer. If the same Bankit that we witnessed in the Springboard Mile shows up again, and if the early fractions are as fast as the Pace Projector predicts, this race should fall into his lap. The selection.
#8, GRAY ATTEMPT (5-2): His Sugar Bowl win was certainly flattered by the performances of runner-up Manny Wah and third-place finisher Hog Creek Hustle in last weekend’s LeComte at the Fair Grounds. They returned to finish third and second, respectively, in that race while basically repeating the TimeformUS Speed Figures that they had earned behind Gray Attempt in their prior starts. This son of Graydar clearly possesses plenty of talent, and the TimeformUS Speed Figures that he has earned in his two victories do suggest that he is the horse to beat in this spot. However, I do think it’s worth noting that he has received favorable pace setups in those races. The early fractions of his Churchill Downs maiden victory were moderate, and all of the TimeformUS Pace Figures for his Sugar Bowl are color-coded blue, indicating a slow pace. Therefore, this Smarty Jones could be a shock to his system if the Pace Projector is accurate. With a speedy foe like Jack Van Berg breaking to his outside and the stretching-out Boldor starting to his inside, he will likely have to run faster fractions to make the front this time. His pedigree for the stretch-out is somewhat ambiguous and I’m not inclined to rely too heavily on a short-priced horse that is trying something for the first time. A vulnerable favorite.
#9, JACK VAN BERG (20-1): He was no match for Super Steed or Boldor in his most recent start in the slop. He did defeat race favorite Gray Attempt in his maiden victory on Nov. 2, but he was catching that one in his career debut. He would have to improve on the stretch-out, and that seems unlikely with so much other speed signed on. Pass.
My top pick is BANKIT (#7). I love the versatility that this colt has displayed and he appears to be heading into this race in top form. If the Pace Projector is accurate, I’m confident that he will work out the right trip. I would take a price as low as 5-2, as I believe he is the most likely winner of this race. I will primarily use him with Long Range Toddy (#1), Super Steed (#3), and Gray Attempt (#8).
Exacta Key Box: 7 with 1,3,8
Trifecta: 7 with 1,3,8 with 1,3,5,6,8
Trifecta: 7 with 5 with 1,3,8