Victory Formation brought his record to a perfect 3-for-3 and joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a confident triumph in the $250,000 Smarty Jones S. on New Year’s Day at Oaklawn Park.
Fresh off a pair of quality sprint wins on the Kentucky circuit, Victory Formation stretched out over one mile without issue at Oaklawn. With Flavien Prat in the saddle for red-hot trainer Brad Cox, Victory Formation broke from the outside post, cleared the field through splits of :23.20, :47.75, and 1:12.36, and then kicked on down the homestretch to beat his rallying stablemate Angel of Empire by three lengths in 1:38.14.
“He’s a nice horse. This horse has a great mind. He doesn’t overdo it in the morning. He settles and I think the farther the better,” Cox told Oaklawn. “He’s got a lot of natural speed. He’s able to put himself in good position and he was able to turn off and settle and finish up with good strides there.”
Denington, exiting a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, rallied belatedly to secure third place over longshot Western Ghent, who tracked Victory Formation’s early pace. How Did He Do That, Ten Days Later, Communication Memo, and C. J’s Storm completed the order of finish.
The Smarty Jones awards Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points to the top five finishers on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis. Winning the Smarty Jones allowed Victory Formation to debut in sixth place on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, trailing Forte (40 points), Curly Jack (17), Blazing Sevens (16), Jace’s Road (13), and Instant Coffee (12).
“He broke really well,” said Prat of the winner. “I didn’t have much of a game plan before the race. I was just hoping to get him into the race and get a good spot. When he broke so well, he got us into the lead and from the point I was just cruising all the way around. He responded really well when I asked him to make a little move.”
As a son of Belmont (G1) winner Tapwrit out of the Smart Strike mare Smart N Soft, Victory Formation is bred top and bottom to thrive racing around two turns, so his performance in the Smarty Jones wasn’t surprising. The bay colt is shaping up as a definite Kentucky Derby type for owners Spendthrift Farm and Frank Fletcher Racing Operations.
“The breeding suggested he would go long,” said Cox. “You never really know (about going two turns) until they do it. He has to confirm it. We have opinions, horses have the answers. He gave us the right answer today.”
Cox also praised runner-up Angel of Empire. “Nice horse and the longer they go, the better he’s going to get. Excited about him.”
The Smarty Jones is the first of four Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races taking place at Oaklawn this winter. The series continues on Jan. 28 with the running of the 1 1/16-mile Southwest (G3).