Road to the Kentucky Derby: Smarty Jones Stakes

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Road to the Kentucky Derby: Smarty Jones Stakes
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The Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., is one of more than three dozen prep horse races on the road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby. 

The 1-mile race on Sunday, Jan. 1, is the first Derby prep of the calendar year, offers a $250,000 purse, and is a prelude to three other Derby preps at the Arkansas track: the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby.

The Smarty Jones offers 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner, four points for second, and 3-2-1 for third through fifth place.

The road to the Derby began in September 2022 and will continue through April 15, 2023. The top 20-point qualifiers earn automatic entry into the 148th Kentucky Derby, set for May 6 at Churchill Downs.

Current 2023 Kentucky Derby Qualifier Standings

Rank HorsePoints Earnings
1 Forte 40 $1,545,650
2 Curly Jack 17 $348,120
3 Blazing Sevens 16 $411,000
4 Jace’s Road 13 $89,100
5 Instant Coffee 12 $265,065
6 Dubyuhnell 10 $137,500
7 Practical Move 10 $132,000
8 Hayes Strike7 $95,750
9 Red Route One 5 $78,375
10 Loggins 4 $106,500
11 Verifying 4 $100,000
12 Honed 4 $58,200
13 Artic Arrogance 4 $50,000
14 Raise Cain 4 $39,750
15 Gulfport 3 $267,070
16 Tuskegee Airmen 3 $90,000
17 Echo Again 3 $46,625
18 Determinedly 3 $20,500
19 Andiamo a Firenze 2 $51,000
20 Gunflash 2 $24,000
21 Quick to Accuse 2 $15,000
22 Tall Boy 2 $12,000

Smarty Jones Stakes

Date: Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023

Distance: 1 mile

Purse: $250,000

Position HorseTrainer RiderOdds
1 C.J.’s Storm John Haran Angel Rodriguez30-1
2 How Did He Do That Steve Asmussen Isasc Castillo 12-1
3 Communication Memo Steve Asmussen Ricardo Santana 5-1
4 Western Ghent D. Wayke Lukas Christian Torres 30-1
5 Ten Days Later Ken McPeek David Cabrera7-2
6 Denington Ken McPeek Francisco Arrieta4-1
7 Angel of Empire Brad Cox Joe Talamo15-1
8 Victory Formation Brad Cox Flavian Pratt6-5

Smarty Jones Stakes Analysis and Selections

The Smarty Jones, the eighth race on a nine-race card, is an early prep and not likely to have a significant impact on the Kentucky Derby field, though 2022 Smarty Jones runner-up Barber Road made it to the Derby starting gate and finished sixth.

The eight-horse field is likely to have a solid betting favorite in Victory Formation, who is unbeaten in two lifetime starts. The 3-year-old colt is trained by Brad Cox, who has two horses in the field, as do trainers Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek. Note that the one-mile distance at Oaklawn Park ends a sixteenth of a mile before the finish line. That means a shorter stretch and an advantage for horses on or close to the lead.

Smarty Jones Selections

1. Morning-line favorite Victory Formation is difficult to look past. While his two wins were at shorter distances, the stretch out to a mile shouldn’t pose a problem. Last time out, he was passed in early stretch, then came back to win. In addition to having the fastest speed figures, Victory Formation is quick out of the gate and should be on or near the lead. With the short stretch, the race sets up tactically for him. That top jockey Flavien Prat flies in to ride is another positive sign.

2. Communication Memo was soundly beaten by Victory Formation in October, but is improving and is the only horse in the field with a win over the Oaklawn surface. He comes back on short two-week rest.

3. Angel of Empire is 2-for-3, his lone loss in a grass race. Will need to improve, but figures to be a square price.

Smarty Jones Betting Strategy 

Win bet on Victory Formation. Straight exacta with Victory Formation over Communication Memo. 

Smaller exactas using Angel of Empire and Ten Days Later in the second spot.