May 23, 2019

Kentucky Derby Report – Speed reigns in Smarty Jones

Gray Attempt and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan hold off Long Range Toddy (inside) and Boldor (outside) to take the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park on January 25, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park

Gray Attempt stretched to two turns and held by a diminishing neck in the Smarty Jones, becoming the third consecutive wire-to-wire winner of the Kentucky Derby qualifier.

He earned 10 points toward a berth but don’t expect to see Gray Attempt in the Kentucky Derby starting gate just yet. Oaklawn Park’s short stretch at the one-mile trip makes it an attractive spot to try a longer distance – Gray Attempt was among four contestants who had raced exclusively in sprints – and the $150,000 Smarty Jones failed to attract out-of-state interest as all eight runners were based locally.

Purse values increase significantly and the competition will get much deeper for Oaklawn’s three remaining preps: $800,000 Southwest (G3) on February 21, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 16 and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 13.

Smarty Jones

Gray Attempt showed high speed at the break of his previous effort, a sharp wire-to-wire tally the six-furlong Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds on December 22, and surged clear at the start of the Smarty Jones. Up by a couple of lengths a few strides into the race, the Jinx Fires-trained colt was put under a snug hold by Shaun Bridgmohan entering the first turn and kept well off the rail the entire way.

Owned by Dwight Pruett, Gray Attempt led by about a length through early stages. Boldor took a run at the pacesetter on the far turn but could never draw even. Gray Attempt came under heavy pressure in the stretch, with Long Range Toddy making it close along the inside, and determinedly prevailed in the end.

Away as the 2-1 second choice, Gray Attempt registered a 92 BRIS Speed rating, a four-point decrease from the Sugar Bowl. A son of Graydar, Gray Attempt’s female family offers little encouragement for extended distances considering neither his dam nor multiple siblings were able to win past a mile.

The last two winners of the Smarty Jones, Uncontested and ill-fated Mourinho, also appeared better suited to sprint/middle distances.

Long Range Toddy improved slightly from the 89 Speed figure he earned winning the December 16 Remington Springboard Mile but still has much to prove for Steve Asmussen. Boldor outran his 12-1 odds missing third by a neck for Asmussen; his lone win came over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs. Asmussen’s third runner, 3-2 favorite Bankit, never fired from off the pace finishing sixth.

Hidden Scroll wows

Hidden Scroll created a buzz on Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup undercard with a spectacular 14-length romp. The sloppy and sealed track must be taken into account and we’ll wait to see how he fares under fast conditions, but this performance reminded me of Arrogate making the jump from anonymity to a 13 1/2-length Travers (G1) romp.

Hidden Scroll ran fast (102 BRIS Speed rating) and looked special; I’m taking a positive view until proven otherwise. A Juddmonte Farm homebred by Hard Spun, the Bill Mott trainee broke forwardly from the rail post among 13 rivals and was guided toward the middle of the track on a short lead before reaching the completion of the chute in the one-turn mile event. Joel Rosario was standing nearly straight up in the saddle on the backstretch trying to relax Hidden Scroll, who clearly wanted to roll while completing the opening half-mile in :44.75, and the bay colt began to widen the advantage while appearing to travel effortlessly on the far turn. He continued to accelerate away from the competition while on cruise control entering the stretch and Rosario let him run a little inside the eighth pole before quickly gathering up his mount late.

Overlooked at 8-1, Hidden Scroll stopped the teletimer in an eye-catching 1:34.82.

His lack of two-year-old experience doesn’t seem as important following the exploits of Justify, who became the first unraced juvenile to win the Kentucky Derby since the 19th century last year. The eventual Triple Crown winner received a 100 Speed figure when capturing his first career start by 9 1/2 lengths in February.

Hidden Scroll is out of an unraced mare by Empire Maker and stamina doesn’t appear to be a concern for the exciting sophomore given his classy female family.

Other three-year-olds

Here are a couple of other three-year-olds performers from last week who will be targeting Kentucky Derby qualifiers:

Jersey Agenda stretched out to two turns for his 2018 opener, a one-mile entry-level allowance at Oaklawn Park on January 26, and the front-running colt showed the way on a short lead until upper stretch. The Charles Fipke homebred drew off in the final sixteenth of a mile, scoring by 2 3/4 lengths beneath Ricardo Santana Jr., but his 91 BRIS Speed rating came back a little light. It remains an encouraging performance nonetheless for the Steve Asmussen-trained colt. By Jersey Town, the lightly-raced Jersey Agenda is bred for speed on top but the female family is slated toward longer distances with Tonalist, Havre de Grace and Riskaverse among his relatives.

Also at Oaklawn Park, Oncewewerebrothers graduated the second time out in a six-furlong maiden race on the January 26 program. Second to Gray Attempt when making his debut at Churchill Downs in late November, the gray gelding hustled from his inside post to stalk the pace in second and moved to the fore after straightening for home. Oncewewerebrothers gamely withstood the late surge of firster Breaking News to prevail by a length and earned a commendable 94 BRIS Speed number. Jimmy DiVito conditions for Doubledown Stables and David Cabrera was up. Oncewewerebrothers is from the first crop of Cairo Prince.

Previews

A trio of qualifiers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series are scheduled for Saturday including Gulfstream Park’s $350,000 Holy Bull (G2) featuring the return of unbeaten Maximus Mischief.

Maximus Mischief established himself as Kentucky Derby contender recording convincing wins in three juvenile starts, including a wire-to-wire triumph the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct. Parx-based Butch Reid trains and Maximus Mischief was flattered when Remsen fourth-placer Bourbon Country came back to post a sharp allowance win at Gulfstream. Remsen third-placer Tax rates as a top contender in Saturday’s Withers (G3) at Aqueduct.

Mihos represents a quality challenger following his victory in the Mucho Macho Man. A winner of two straight for Jimmy Jerkens, the Cairo Prince colt appears built for longer distances but must avoid leaving himself too much to do in the short stretch at the 1 1/16-mile distance. Mihos needs another strong finish to keep advancing and is eligible to receive a favorable set-up with a number of front-running types in the mix.

A wet track looms as a good possibility and none of the main contenders have raced under off conditions. Federal Case is a little intriguing in his stakes debut for Todd Pletcher but given the uncertainty surrounding the track conditions, I’ll wait before formulating an opinion.

The $250,000 Withers doesn’t have the star quality of the Holy Bull but the seven-horse affair looks like a decent betting race. Lucky Lee is the likely favorite following a pair of nice wins at Parx and Moretti may take some action off a convincing maiden win for Pletcher. Jerome runner-up Our Braintrust and Damon Runyan victor Not That Brady must be considered contenders as well.

I’m intrigued by Tax, who was claimed for $50,000 from a sharp maiden win when trying two turns in his second start at Churchill Downs. New connections shipped him to New York for the Remsen and the gelded son of Arch stalked the pace in second before offering a solid run at Maximus Mischief between calls. He came up short on the class hike but never quit trying through the stretch, finishing 6 ¼ lengths clear of Bourbon County in third. He can keep moving forward off that effort with a strong showing Saturday.

Only six were entered for the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita and wet conditions are expected.

Sham (G3) winner Gunmetal Gray is the top draw but the dedicated closer could be at the mercy at a moderate pace. Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) runner-up Mucho Gusto merits respect for Bob Baffert and Nolo Contesto can be considered a wildcard in his stakes debut.

Owned by Hronis Racing and trained by John Sadler, the Pioneerof the Nile ridgling stretch out to two turns for his second start on January 4 and proved game running down an experienced foe, registering a solid 94 BRIS Speed rating for the half-length win.

Kentucky Derby Top 10

  1. GAME WINNER: 2yo champ has posted three moves this month in advance of 3/9 San Felipe
  2.  IMPROBABLE: Unbeaten G1 winner could head to 3/16 Rebel for Baffert
  3. MAXIMUS MISCHIEF: Front-running colt heads Saturday’s Holy Bull
  4. HIDDEN SCROLL: Impressive debut winner for Mott
  5. WAR OF WILL: Recorded sharp win in Lecomte making first start over a fast track
  6. VEKOMA: Unbeaten stakes victor may be targeting 3/2 Fountain of Youth
  7. MIHOS: Mucho Macho Man winner tries two turns in Holy Bull
  8. COLISEUM: Will cut back to seven-furlongs for 2/10 San Vicente
  9. GUNMETAL GRAY: Sham winner brings late-running style to Saturday’s Lewis
  10. MUCHO: Hopeful runner-up gearing up for sophomore return