Friday, January 16, 2015

Monday’s Smarty Jones Stakes Kicks off Road to the Arkansas Derby
 
Nine horses were entered Friday morning for Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn. The 1-mile race is the first of four major local preps for the Kentucky Derby, culminating with the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11.

Probable post time for the Smarty Jones, which headlines a special nine-race holiday card, is 4:38 p.m. (Central).

Probable program favorite Mr. Z is scheduled to break from post 3 under Jon Court.

Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Mr. Z was narrowly beaten in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) Dec. 20 and the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) Nov. 22.

Far Right, a troubled third in the Delta Jackpot, drew the rail for the Smarty Jones. Also entered are Springboard Mile winner Bayerd, Paid Admission, American Sailor, Hebbronville, Lucky Player, Private Prospect and Runaway Bling. Bayerd and Lucky Player are trained by six-time leading trainer Steve Asmussen.

Clark O. Brewster’s Bayerd, a son of champion sprinter Speightstown, has run five times and two of his three wins were in stakes races. After graduating with a smashing 11 ½ lengths victory over a talented field of 2yos at Saratoga Race Course in August, he made a trio of starts at Remington Park and ended his juvenile season with a gutsy win by a head in the Springboard Mile Stakes there on December 14 under Ramon Vazquez.

“Bayerd is a nice horse who has run five very good races,” Asmussen said of the Kip Deville Stakes winner, who has never finished out of the money. “He won his last race at a mile so the Smarty Jones is a good spot to start his three-year-old campaign.”

The Kentucky-bred bay colt has been back on the work tab since December 24 and on Tuesday (Jan. 13) went out for an easy 4f breeze in 50.60.

“I’m anxious to see how he does at Oaklawn, which can be a horse specific course sometimes,” said Asmussen, who keeps a division of his 200-plus horse outfit in Hot Springs.

Jerry Durant’s Lucky Player, a son of champion Lookin at Lucky, who won Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes (G2) and the Preakness Stakes (G1) in 2010, captured the Iroquois Stakes in September at Churchill Downs. Last out, he finished seventh under Oaklawn’s defending leading rider Ricardo Santana, Jr. in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Gold Cup and two starts back was eighth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“He’s a nice horse too,” Asmussen said of the colt, who also worked 4f at Fairgrounds on Tuesday and traveled in his stable mate’s identical time of 50.60. “We’ll see if he can handle two turns at this time of year.”

Asmussen, who is giving Vazquez and Santana return calls on Bayerd and Lucky Player, respectively, said both colts are a pleasure to have in the barn, especially this time of the year.

“Neither one is quirky. They are both straightforward colts and easy to be around. They are young, good-feeling boys,” he said. “We have hopes and dreams for them.”

Successful Ride

Ride On Curlin could return to stakes and two-turn action in the $100,000 Essex Handicap Feb. 14 at Oaklawn, trainer Billy Gowan said Friday morning.

Thursday afternoon at Oaklawn, Ride On Curlin made a successful return to racing with a head victory over Ali’s Birthday in a second-level allowance/ optional claiming sprint as the even-money favorite.

Ride On Curlin, runner-up in last year’s Arkansas Derby and Preakness, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.40 over a fast track and earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 93.

It was Ride On Curlin’s first start since the Belmont Stakes June 7.

“I wouldn’t have been crushed if he had gotten beat, because it was his first race back,” Gowan said. “I just wanted to see him run his race. He sure showed up, like he always does.”

Gowan said he was a little concerned early in the race because Ride On Curlin was farther back than expected after breaking a step slow when he struck the side of the gate.

Ride On Curlin, saving ground under Jon Court, began to advance on the leaders late in the turn, but was still eighth after Ali’s Birthday had taken the field through a half-mile in :45.28.

Ali’s Birthday, who was making his first start since April because of an ankle injury, was three lengths clear in midstretch, but Ride On Curlin wore the front-runner down on the outside in the final strides.

Ride On Curlin was flanked by a large group of supporters in the winner’s circle, including owner Dan Dougherty of Louisville, Ky., who purchased the son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin for only $25,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

“A lot of people like the horse,” Gowan said. “It was pretty cool. It was fun to get him back to the races.”

Gowan said Ride On Curlin came out of the race in good order and could be headed toward the 1 1/16-mile Essex. “If he’s jumping out of his skin, we’ll consider it pretty strongly,” Gowan said.

The trainer said Ride On Curlin’s major spring objective is the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 11.

The victory was Ride On Curlin’s third in 13 lifetime starts and increased his earnings to $751,287.

Ride On Curlin began his 2014 campaign with a victory in an entry-level allowance/optional claiming sprint last January at Oaklawn.
 
No Promise For Next Start

Trainer Bret Calhoun said next-race plans are pending for Promise Me Silver, who remained unbeaten in five lifetime starts with a neck victory in Thursday’s $100,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

The 6-furlong race was originally scheduled to be run Jan. 9, but Oaklawn canceled racing last week because of severe winter weather.

Calhoun said the date change makes it unlikely that Promise Me Silver will make her two-turn debut in the $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 31.

“It’s a little close back,” Calhoun said Friday morning. “There’s not a lot options sprinting right now, really anywhere. There’s more opportunities stretching out right now, but the Martha Washington - I would say it’s unlikely.”

From the first crop of Silver City, Promise Me Silver has won at five tracks in four states (Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Arkansas) and is a four-time stakes winner. Calhoun said Promise Me Silver has shown the ability to rate in her last two races, something her speedy sire couldn’t do in his brief racing career. Calhoun saddled Silver City to win the $50,000 Dixieland Stakes in 2009 at Oaklawn.

Promise Me Silver was coming off a 5 ½-length victory in the $50,000 Letellier Memorial Dec. 20 at Fair Grounds.

“She’s learned how to rate,” Calhoun said. “Her last two races are evident of that. Before that, she was kind of speed oriented, kind of wanted to be up in the race and close to the lead. Now, she’s willing to turn off and settle and be wherever she needs to be.”

Finish Lines

Trainer Jinks Fires said Simply Confection was scratched from Thursday’s Dixie Belle after she came up with filling in an ankle and heat in a knee. Fires, who had planned to use the Dixie Belle as a prep for the Martha Washington, said he believes Simply Confection will still run at the meeting. … Trainer Mark Casse said he’s pointing Mississippi Delta, a winner of 2 of 3 career starts, including the $125,000 Glorious Song Stakes Nov. 22 at Woodbine, for the Martha Washington. Mississippi Delta missed the Dixie Belle after coming up with a minor illness, Casse said, days before the race was originally scheduled to be run. … Training was delayed 90 minutes Friday morning because of a frozen racing surface.

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