Stakes Advance - Smarty Jones

Compiled by Robert Yates

Just Steel was just great in his last start. Now, the son of Triple Crown winner Justify gets another chance around two turns in Monday’s $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race this season.

The Smarty Jones anchors a 10-race card, with probable post time 4:14 p.m. (CST). It is the ninth race. Racing begins at 12:30 p.m.

The Smarty Jones was extended to 1 1/16 miles in 2024 after being run at one mile since its inception in 2008. It will offer 21 points (10-5-3-2-1, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

The nine-horse field, in post-position order: Informed Patriot (#1), Ricardo Santana Jr., to ride, 117 pounds, 8-1 on the morning line; Catching Freedom (#2), Cristian Torres, 117, 9-2; Lagynos (#3), Joel Rosario, 119, 6-1; Mystik Dan (#4), Julien Leparoux, 117, 5-1; Mo Winning (#5), Harry Hernandez, 117, 20-1; Gettysburg Address (#6), Flavien Prat, 117, 7-2; Just Steel (#7), Ramon Vazquez, 119, 9-5; Chaperone (#8), Keith Asmussen, 117, 30-1; and Fidget (#9), Martin Chuan, 117, 15-1.

Program favorite Just Steel has had a rollercoaster seven-race career for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, breaking his maiden by a nose Aug. 5 at Saratoga and posting a sharp 2 ½-length victory in his last start, the $225,000 Ed Brown Stakes Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs. Sandwiched around those sprint victories (6 and 6 ½ furlongs, respectively) were three consecutive losses, including a sixth in the 8 ½-fulrong $600,000 G1-Breeders’ Futurity Stakes Oct. 7 at Keeneland.

Just Steel, who held the lead approaching the top of the stretch, was beaten 16 lengths in the Breeders’ Futurity, his only start around two turns.

“He ran a very powerful race,” Lukas said, referring to the Ed Brown. “He had that one bad race, but he’s done well since. That last one, he finished up very well. We’re looking forward to it. I really like this horse.”

Lukas trains Just Steel, a $500,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sales graduate, for John Bellinger and Brian Coelho (BC Stables). Just Steel’s past performance lines contain top Kentucky Derby prospects such as G2-Kentucky Jockey Club winner Honor Marie; Springboard Mile winner Otto the Conqueror; Locked, winner of the Breeders’ Futurity and third in the G1-Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; and Breeders’ Futurity runner-up The Wine Steward.

“If you’ve got a 3-year-old and you get to where you’re three-other-than (allowance) or two-other-than, you’ve got your options of going in the stakes for 3-year-olds going forward or a sprint,” Lukas said. “But having said all that, I consider him a potential prospect for the Arkansas Derby.”

Trainer Brad Cox is scheduled to start three horses (Catching Freedom, Gettysburg Address and Fidget) after running 1-2 in last year’s Smarty Jones. Gettysburg Address is the most accomplished, finishing fourth in the $200,000 G3-Street Sense Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 29 at Churchill Downs. Gettysburg Address removes blinkers for the Smarty Jones.

“We need him to break well and relax,” Cox said. “It was either this or an allowance race. He’s going to have to step up.”

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is represented by Street Sense third-place finisher Informed Patriot and Lagynos, who exits a first level, off-the-turf allowance victory at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs.

“Two wonderful chances,” Asmussen said. “I mean, they really are. I’ve always thought that 2 turning 3-year-olds, no matter how good you ran the last time, it’s not good enough for your next one. At this time of the year, if they don’t run better, they’re in trouble.”

The speedy Mystik Dan will be making his stakes and two-turn debut after finishing fifth in a one-mile first-level allowance Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs. Informed Patriot was third in the race.

“He came back with a lung infection, and I ran him back too quick (13 days),” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “That bullet’s on me.”

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the 1 1/16-miles $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes Jan. 27, $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes Feb. 24 and the nine-furlong $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30.