Hot Springs, Ark. (Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015) – Zayat Stables’ Mr. Z is a few feet from being a millionaire, yet the well-traveled son of Malibu Moon is still seeking his first career stakes victory. That could change Monday when Mr. Z runs in the $150,000 Smarty Jones for 3-year-olds, Oaklawn’s first major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11. In addition, the top four finishers of the Smarty Jones will be awarded points (10-4-2-1) based on Churchill Downs’ criteria for making the Kentucky Derby field.
The 1-mile Smarty Jones, named for the 2004 champion 3-year-old male and Oaklawn icon, goes as race eight and anchors a special Martin Luther King Jr. holiday program that also features a free 2015 Oaklawn cap giveaway. First post Monday is 1 p.m. and the probable post time for the Smarty Jones is 4:38 p.m. (Central).
Mr. Z, who is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, only has a maiden victory to his credit in eight career starts (all last year). But, he finished second in the $150,000 Sanford Stakes (G3) and $200,000 Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) at Saratoga in New York, was second in the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland in Kentucky, second in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) at Delta Downs in Louisiana and third in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) at Los Alamitos in California.
“He’s a blue-collar worker,” Lukas said before training hours Sunday. “He shows up every time.”
Mr. Z earned $499,726 last year, but his bankroll would be already be seven figures with victories in the Delta Jackpot (he was beaten a nose) and Los Alamitos Futurity (beaten a head).
Lukas said he’s “somewhat” surprised Mr. Z has yet to break through against stakes competition.
“But, he’s run so hard at so many good horses,” Lukas said. “I think that’s in his future. I’m not worried about that.”
Mr. Z’s strong resume has stamped him the heavy 2-1 program favorite for the Smarty Jones, which drew a field of nine. Jockey Jon Court will be reunited with the colt, who is scheduled to break from post 3 and carry 115 pounds.
Mr. Z has been a forward factor early in almost all of his races and Lukas said the post is “fine.”
“He’s had a good couple of weeks here,” Lukas said. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow. He’s a solid horse. As a trainer, you would like to have about eight or 10 like that and you could make a living.”
Far Right, a generous 6-1 in the program, will also be making his 3-year-old debut Monday. In his last start, Far Right finished a troubled third, beaten four lengths, in the Delta Jackpot. The Notional colt switches to Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who rode winner Ocho Ocho Ocho in the Delta Jackpot to his nose victory over Mr. Z.
Far Right will break from the rail and also carry 115 pounds.
“I don’t care,” Moquett said when asked about the post position. “I wouldn’t mind if they started us behind the gates.”
The 9-2 co-second choice on the morning line is the speedy Hebbronville, who has trained sharply for his 3-year-old debut. Hebbronville won his first two career starts last summer at Parx in suburban Philadelphia before running second in the $200,000 Futurity (G2) at Belmont Park in New York.
Trainer Lynn Whiting called Hebbronville a “very talented” horse.
The complete field for the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, in post position order, with riders and morning line odds: Far Right, Mike Smith, 6-1; Paid Admission, David Mello, 20-1; Mr. Z, Jon Court, 2-1; American Sailor, Joe Rocco Jr., 15-1; Hebbronville, Shaun Bridgmohan, 9-2; Lucky Player, Ricardo Santana Jr., 5-1; Bayerd, Ramon Vazquez, 9-2; Private Prospect, 6-1 and Runaway Bling, Glen Corbett, 30-1.