Arkansas’s path to the Kentucky Derby kicks off on Friday with the Smarty Jones, a $150,000 stakes going one mile at Oaklawn, which offers 10 qualifying points to the winner. Steve Asmussen holds a very strong hand in this race, having entered four of the nine runners in the field, including the two morning-line favorites.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which is to be expected given the presence of some key speed types like stretching-out sprinters Nucky (#4) and Gold Street (#6). A particularly hot pace should not necessarily hinder any of the major contenders, since all possess relatively adaptable running styles.
Asmussen’s quartet is led by Silver Prospector (#2), the winner of last fall’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. This colt has turned his career around since switching to dirt last fall, surging to prominence following his 111 TimeformUS Speed Figure maiden victory at Keeneland. While that number has not been totally validated by others out of that race, Silver Prospector has gone on to run well against stakes company, most notably in the aforementioned Kentucky Jockey Club. It doesn’t appear as if the sloppy track had much of a positive impact on his performance as he gamely fended off multiple challenges in the stretch. Notably, the fourth-place finisher from that race, Enforceable, returned to take down the Lecomte last weekend, so there was strength in that field. He’s the horse to beat, but he’s unlikely to offer much value in a competitive race.
I’m less enthusiastic about Asmussen’s other short price, Shoplifted (#7). He appreciated the class relief he got last time when winning the Springboard Mile going this distance. However, he got a favorable trip that day as Santana kept him off the rail throughout on a card when racing too close to the rail appeared to be detrimental. He has the best TimeformUS Late Pace Rating in this field (93), so perhaps he’ll benefit most from a possible fast pace. Yet I just feel that we’ve already seen the best he has to offer going this far and prefer others.
There are a few intriguing contenders who are stepping up in class out of allowance and maiden races. One that figures to attract plenty of support is Three Technique (#9). This New York invader easily handled an overmatched group of optional-claiming rivals going seven furlongs at Aqueduct last time out, but he only earned a 92 TimeformUS Speed Figure in doing so. A repeat of that performance would make him too slow, but he showed the capability of running faster in his maiden victory at Saratoga over the summer, in which he unleashed a dazzling turn of foot to win going away by over five lengths. He has to stretch out for the first time, but he is a half-brother to the talented stakes-winning router Stan the Man, so he’s not supposed to have an issue with this distance.
I prefer a different up-and-comer. LYNN’S MAP (#8) scratched out of last weekend’s Lecomte after Mark Casse was dissatisfied with him drawing post position 14. His stock rose without participating in that race, as one of the horses whom he defeated last time, Mr. Monomoy, finished a strong third in the Lecomte, improving his TimeformUS Speed Figure by 11 points. That’s especially noteworthy since Lynn’s Map undoubtedly ran the better race when they met at Fair Grounds on Dec. 21, since he had to overcome a very slow pace to run down that rival. Lynn’s Map’s TimeformUS Speed Figure of 96 for that winning effort doesn’t stand out in this group, but the three horses who finished directly behind him have all returned to run significantly faster in their subsequent starts. This horse has an athletic way of moving and possesses a versatile running style, which should allow him to adapt to whatever pace scenario he encounters. The one-mile distance seems perfect for him, though he’s bred to go farther in the future. If he’s anything around his 6-1 morning-line price, I think he offers the best value of the major players.
One other runner that I would want to use strictly for exotics purposes is the maiden Shared Sense (#3). He didn’t finish that far behind Lynn’s Map when they met in a maiden race last fall and he subsequently ran well when stretched out around two turns for the first time in the slop in late November. While that was an off-the-turf event, winner Blackberry Wine has since come back to win a fast allowance race on dirt, so that may have been a field of high quality. If the pace is honest, Shared Sense can pick up some pieces here at a price.
Exacta Key Box: 8 with 2,3,7,9
Trifecta: 8 with 2,9 with 2,3,6,7,9
Trifecta: 8 with 3,7 with 2,9