Inaugurated in 2009, the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park is one of the more recent additions to the prep race calendar for the 2021 Kentucky Derby race. The Smarty Jones Stakes is named in honor of a very popular contender from the 2000s, running Saturday, January 22nd, 2021.
Smarty Jones was a little-known Pennsylvania-bred colt that quickly catapulted into the limelight in 2003-04, winning three prep races at Oaklawn Park on the trail to the Kentucky Derby.
Smarty went on to win both the Derby and Preakness with ease that year.
He was only denied the Triple Crown under dramatic circumstances, beaten by a 36-1 outsider Birdstibe on the homestretch at the Belmont Stakes.
He retired soon after, winning over $7 million in nine races, with eight wins.
In honor of his exploits in the Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes, and Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park named the 1-mile race after him.
Over the years, the $150,000 race has quickly evolved into prominence as a reliable source of Derby contenders – in just 10 years, it has produced 7 starters for the main event and Churchill Downs.
The most accomplished of these was Will Take Charge – in 2013 the thoroughbred competed in all three Triple Crown races.
But we are still waiting for a Derby winner to rise from the Smarty Jones. And if current trends are anything to go by, that wait may continue into 2022.
Smarty Jones Stakes Recent Trends
The race heavily favors speedsters who are quick off the gates. The 1-mile distance leaves this event with a very short home stretch at Oaklawn – a paltry 825 feet. That does not leave the chasing pack any time to catch the leader.
In fact, the last four winners at this race led from start to finish – or gate-to-wire fashion. The most striking of these was in 2017 – the aptly named Uncontested smashed records with a margin of over 5 lengths.
If any of the horses get into a lead within the opening quarter-mile here, the race is as good as over. This makes it somewhat easy to spot the favorites as well.
In 2021, there are seven colts in the running for the Smarty Jones Stakes and the 10 points it offers for the prep races leaderboard.
The 2021 Smarty Jones Stakes Race Card
#1 Martini Blu (MacLean’s Music)
He comes into this race having broken his maiden in late December at Hawthorne. With that kind of record, Martini Blu’s main draw is his pedigree – sire MacLean’s Music has some excellent black-type stakes winners on the CV.
Martini Blu needs to start winning races like the Smarty Jones to be considered as a serious prospect.
#2 Lawlessness (Congrats)
This one is a largely unknown quantity as this is going to be his first proper race. He comes from the stables of experienced trainer Ingrid Mason.
Given the quality and experience of the other colts, this could be a trial by fire for the young Lawlessness.
#3 Cowan (Kantharos)
Highly fancied colt from the stables of Steve Asmussen, Cowan is in the top-15 of the Kentucky prep races leaderboard. His best race to date was the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint last year where he finished a strong second behind Golden Pal.
#4 Big Thorn (The Big Beast)
He is a stablemate of Cowan at the Asmussen establishment. But since he only recently changed trainers (from David Fawkes), expectations are on the lower side for the Gulfstream Juvenile Turf winner right now.
#5 Hardly Swayed (Bernardini)
Coming into this race off an allowance win, Hardly Swayed has precious little to attract the attention of bettors in this race. If he wins this one, it would be a massive upset.
Trainer Rey Hernandez is an experienced operator, but his horse feels somewhat out of depth here.
#6 Moonlite Strike (Liam’s Map)
The son of Liam’s Map is an interesting option for bettors – on the one hand, he did win a gutsy allowance race at Gulfstream Park in December. But on the other, he was running out of steam towards the end and will face much stronger foes at Oaklawn.
#7 Caddo River (Hard Spun)
This one had an eye-catching 9-length win over at Churchill Downs in November for his maiden. He also has the genes – sire Hard Spun is a Kentucky Derby runner up of 2007 vintage, while mare Pangburn is a stakes winner.
Who are the favorites, and why?
A lot of folks would be rooting for #3 Cowan, given his exploits in the Breeder’s Juvenile Turf. He also has some points on the board for the Prep Races – four so far.
While he is certainly one of the top three contenders here, the Oaklawn track may be his undoing.
Cowan is more of a stayer, with a fine ability to close down on leaders towards the latter stages of a race. He is much better suited for races that are more than a mile long. And the one at Smarty Jones, with its shorter home stretch, might not play to his strengths.
Of the two other horses coming into this race with a win, #6 Moonlite Strike looks like a better option than Hardly Swayed. He is faster and has winning experience at this sort of distance. But he did tire awfully towards the end in that winning race.
Definitely, one to watch but may be not the favorite.
All this shapes up nicely in favor of #7 Caddo River – the quirks of the track, weaknesses of the other horses, everything points in the direction of Brad Cox’s horse as the favorite. The only problem will be finding a decent price for him.
The story so far in the Road to Kentucky Derby 2021
We are exactly a third of our way into the 36 prep races for the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
A few young horses have already established a claim to be the front runners at Churchill Downs.
The odds are definitely shortening in favor of Essential Quality, the Godolphin colt who has raced to an early lead on the points table with 30 from three races.
The Breeder’s Cup Juvenile winner is currently working towards a February return to the prep races.
Keepmeinmind, who finished behind Essential Quality twice at the G1 Juvenile stakes at Keeneland in 2020, is currently second on the points table with 18.
Two colts have a dozen points in the bank at this time – Asmussen’s ward Jackie’s Warrior, and Spielberg who hails from Bob Baffert’s stables. But that table will change drastically once the February – March races happen – many of them have 50 points for winners instead of the 10 we are seeing in January.
There is just one more prep race after Smarty Jones – the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on January 30th.