Smile Happy Returns a Winner

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, or (501) 363-4305

Friday, March 17, 2023

Smile Happy

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Smile Happy Returns a Winner

Grade 2 winner Smile Happy is headed back to stakes company after his successful comeback Thursday at Oaklawn, trainer Kenny McPeek said Friday morning.

Making his first start since finishing eighth in last May’s Kentucky Derby, Smile Happy recorded a 1 ¼-length allowance victory in the $106,000 eighth race under Francisco Arrieta. The odds-on favorite, Smile Happy ($3.80) covered 1 1/8 miles over a sloppy track in a meet-best 1:48.95.

“Thrilled,” McPeek said. “Tricky horse to train sometimes. Very independent. Sometimes he has good days and sometimes he has bad days. Just thrilled. He’s such a good horse.”

McPeek said Smile Happy “likely” will make his next start in the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles April 22 at Oaklawn. His comeback produced a preliminary Equibase speed rating of 104, a career high.

“It was such an impressive race and a really good time, too,” McPeek said.

Smile Happy was among the country’s leading Kentucky Derby prospects last year after winning both starts 2, including the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles, by a combined 8 ¾ lengths.

After finishing second in two major Kentucky Derby preps to open his 3-year-old campaign, Smile Happy didn’t run again in 2022 after being beaten 10 lengths by Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby. McPeek said he decided to stop on Smile Happy because of bone bruising and point the son of champion Runhappy to a 4-year-old campaign.

Owned by Lucky Seven Stable (Mike Mackin), Smile Happy raised his career earnings to $613,410 after winning for the third time in six starts.

McPeek also had another 2022 Triple Crown starter in Thursday’s eighth race in Creative Minister, who finished third in the Preakness and fifth in the Belmont Stakes. Creative Minister finished fourth, beaten 8 ¼ lengths by Smile Happy, in his 4-year-old debut.

“Came back fine,” McPeek said. “Didn’t seem to handle the mud quite as well. He struggled through it a little bit, but he’ll improve off that. I think he wants a dry track.”

McPeek said Creative Minister could run in another allowance race before the Oaklawn meeting ends May 6 or resurface at Keeneland.

Smile Happy represented the third consecutive victory on the card for Arrieta.

Talk Derby to Me

Airtime, unbeaten in two starts at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting, is being pointed to the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 1, trainer Robertino Diodoro said Friday morning.

Diodoro, on behalf of owner Randy Howg, claimed Airtime for $50,000 out of a 10 ¼-length victory Jan. 29. Airtime, in his first start for Diodoro, was a 1 ¼-length winner of a first-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 18. Airtime, a son of American Freedom, has subsequently recorded two works at Oaklawn in advance of the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, which will mark his stakes debut.

“We’ve got a couple of more works until April 1, but the horse is doing very good,” Diodoro said. “We were hoping that we had claimed a nice 3-year-old. It is a big swing, but the horse is showing all the signs of being a little better than a $50,000 horse. Trained very good.”

Diodoro said Cristian Torres would have the return call on Airtime for the Arkansas Derby. Torres is Oaklawn’s leading rider this season.

The Arkansas Derby will offer 200 points to the top five finishers (100-40-30-20-10, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

Post positions for the Arkansas Derby will be drawn March 26. It is Oaklawn’s fourth and final Kentucky Derby points race.

Finish Lines

David Cabrera recorded his 200th career Oaklawn victory aboard Flatout Winner ($7.80) in Thursday’s fourth race, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Cabrera made his Oaklawn debut in 2018 and was its co-leading rider in 2021-2022 with 62 victories. He rode Flatout Winner for trainer Nevada Litfin. … Staton Flurry of Hot Springs entered Friday with 99 career victories as a sole owner after winning two races Thursday at Oaklawn. Flurry won the sixth race with favored Princedreamcess ($4.40) and the seventh race with Windy Bay ($6.80). Princedreamcess represented Flurry’s first victory with trainer Matt Shirer. Windy Bay represented Flurry’s first victory with trainer Cipriano Contreras. The double gave Flurry 32 career victories at Oaklawn as a sole owner. … Southern California-based Ramon Vazquez will ride millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner Lone Rock in the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes for older horses at 1 ½ miles April 2 at Oaklawn, trainer Robertino Diodoro said Friday morning. Vazquez, who has 393 career Oaklawn victories, is Lone Rock’s regular rider. … “Oaklawn Raceday,” featuring David Longinotti, director of Oaklawn Anywhere, and Equibase representative Jeff Taylor, can be heard Saturdays 11 a.m.-11:30 a.m. (Central) during the 2022-2023 meeting on Little Rock, Ark., radio station KABZ-FM 103.7 and Hall of Fame jockey Steve Cauthen is this week’s special guest.