Oaklawn Park opens its 2020 season Friday in the best position in its 100-plus year history, and no better reflection of that is the opening-day $150,000 Smarty Jones, which has seemingly attracted one of its most stellar casts.
The one-mile Smarty Jones, the eighth of nine races Friday, is the final Road to the Kentucky Derby series prep of the month, rewarding the top four finishers with respective qualifying points of 10-4-2-1. It’s also the first of Oaklawn’s four Derby preps, which will be followed by the increasingly lucrative Southwest (G3) next month, the Rebel (G2) in March, and the Arkansas Derby (G1) in April.
Silver Prospector, who has 10 points already courtesy of a narrow victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November, breaks from post 2 for Steve Asmussen. That win in the slop, at the expense of Champagne (G1) winner Tiz the Law, has proven an even more significant win following the success last week in the Lecomte (G3) of fourth-place finisher Enforceable.
Asmussen will also rely on Springboard Mile winner Shoplifted, who earned 10 points for that Remington Park score on Dec. 15; Gold Street, who stretches out after a convincing 3 1/2-length win in the 6-furlong Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds late last month; and stakes winner Jungle Runner, a distant fourth in the Springboard Mile.
Lynn’s Map, withdrawn from the Lecomte after drawing a wide post, received the more manageable post 8 in the Smarty Jones. Trainer Mark Casse won the race anyway, with Enforceable, but this colt is talented, too. The son of Liam’s Map comes off two tough wins, the first a half-length maiden score over Shared Sense, and the latest a head decision in a Fair Grounds allowance over Mr. Monomoy, who subsequently ran third in the Lecomte.
Three Technique makes his stakes debut off convincing back-to-back wins in New York for Jeremiah Englehart, the latter an odds-on allowance score going 7 furlongs at Aqueduct on Nov. 20.
Godolphin homebred Shared Sense is still a maiden after three starts, missing to Silver Prospector and Lynn’s Map in his first two, and last time to recent Fair Grounds allowance winner Blackberry Wine. Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner Nucky, meanwhile, has not backed up that upset victory in two subsequent starts.
The 57-day Oaklawn meet runs through May 2. More than $35 million in purse money is expected to be disbursed, including 33 stakes worth $10.7 million. Four races — the Arkansas Derby, Rebel, Apple Blossom H. (G1), and Oaklawn H. (G2) — will each carry a purse of $1 million.