May 31, 2023

Smile Happy earns Derby points in Kentucky Jockey Club romp

Smile Happy wins the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

Rallying wide into the stretch, Smile Happy blew past the leaders and drew off to a 3 1/4-length victory in Saturday’s $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill Downs.

The Kenny McPeek-trained colt picked up 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth winning the qualifier, and Corey Lanerie was up for Michael Mackin’s Lucky Seven Stable.

“This is really a team effort and I want to give a lot of credit to our team behind these horses,” said McPeek, who also won the 2001 Kentucky Jockey Club with Repent. “I’m really proud of the horse and thankful the Mackin Family gave us this horse to train. He’s been very impressive to start his career.”

Smile Happy is now perfect from two starts, both coming at 1 1/16 miles, and he left the starting gate as the 48-10 third choice in the Kentucky Jockey Club. The Runhappy colt closed fast to win his Oct. 29 debut at Keeneland going away by 5 1/2 lengths, and the dark bay stopped the teletimer in 1:43.94 on Saturday.

Howling Time, the 2-1 third choice, sped to the lead at the break and showed the way through early splits in :23.95 and :48.94 on a short lead. Smile Happy was never far back, stalking the pace in fifth during the early stages, and he advanced about four wide as the leaders began to bunch up approaching the stretch.

Any suspense was short-lived as Smile Happy powered away by midstretch, rolling home much the best.

“You’d think this horse ran 10 times already with how mature he acts,” Lanerie said. “He’s very ratable and easy to ride. I felt very confident with him at the half-mile pole. I could tell I had a lot of horse beneath me. I got him into the right spot and he really kicked clear in the stretch. He’s got a bright future.”

Classic Causeway, the 7-5 favorite among 11 runners, raced just off the pacesetter, and loomed large turning for home, but he could not go with the winner, winding up a clear second.

White Abarrio came next in third, a half-length better than Ben Diesel in fourth. Howling Time, Vivar, Call Me Midnight, Red Knobs, Guntown, Texas Red Hot, and Ready Pursuit completed the order of finish.

Bred in Kentucky by Moreau Bloodstock International and White Bloodstock, Smile Happy was purchased by his connections for $185,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky September sale. He’s out of the Pleasant Tap mare Pleasant Smile, and Smile Happy appears well-built for longer distances.

“We’ll probably take it easy with him in December and January and start deciding his future in February,” McPeek said of future plans. “At this stage we have a lot of options on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. It’s a good problem to have.”