Sorting the Contenders in the Smarty Jones Stakes

January 21st, 2019

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues on Friday with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, a one-mile race that strikes me as considerably easier to interpret than last week’s Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Whether that indeed proves to be the case is another question entirely, but here’s how I break down the main contenders:

The Deserving Favorite

#8 Gray Attempt: True, he’s never won going farther than 6 ½ furlongs, but this son of Graydar has shown a world of talent sprinting. I was particularly impressed by his gate-to-wire victory in the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds last month, in which he beat the capable duo of Manny Wah and Hog Creek Hustle while posting sharp speed figures of 92 (Beyer) and 96 (BRIS). Take note, Hog Creek Hustle and Manny Wah flattered the form of the Sugar Bowl by returning to finish second and third in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) last week.

In essence, Gray Attempt is fast, he’s beaten quality rivals, and he’s drawn well in post position eight, so he should enjoy a traffic-free trip while stretching out around two turns for the first time. They’ll have to catch him to beat him.

The Worthy Challengers

#1 Long Range Toddy: A two-time stakes winner for trainer Steve Asmussen, Long Range Toddy has tactical speed but showed he can carry it a mile by forging to a hard-fought win in the Remington Springboard Mile last month. However, he still needs to step up on the speed figure scales, and the rail draw could be tricky.

#7 Bankit: Long Range Toddy’s stablemate produced a big late run to finish second in the Springboard Mile, beaten a head after dropping back to last place early on. A stakes winner going a mile against New York-breds at Belmont Park, Bankit showed a lot of early speed in his first four starts sprinting but has turned into a closer since stretching out around two turns, so he’s got options for working out a good trip.

The Live Longshots

#3 Super Steed: He did little wrong in his first two starts, which included an eye-catching six-length allowance victory over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs. Despite a trouble start, he swallowed the field with authority while putting up an 87 Beyer and a 94 BRIS speed figure. Subsequently, he was a bit sluggish and never really a contender in the Sugar Bowl Stakes, but you have to respect trainer Larry Jones tossing this colt back into stakes company while stretching out in distance. If Super Steed gets back to the form of his maiden win, he can be involved for a major piece of the Smarty Jones purse.

#9 Jack Van Berg: This son of To Honor and Serve actually beat Gray Attempt in a six-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs on Breeders’ Cup Friday and looked good doing so, setting a fast pace and pulling away late to win by two lengths. He then came home fifth behind Super Steed in the latter’s allowance win, but that was over a sloppy, sealed track that he possibly didn't care for. In any case, Jack Van Berg is bred to stretch out and gets into the race carrying just 115 pounds, seven less than Long Range Toddy.

I’ll key Gray Attempt on top in the exacta and trifecta while combing the other four underneath:

$4 exacta: 8 with 1,3,7 ($12) $2 trifecta: 8 with 1,3,7 with 1,3,7,9 ($18)

Good luck!