Today’s Smarty Jones Stakes kicks off the Kentucky Derby trail at Oaklawn Park, and with recent horses like Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Lookin at Lucky, and of course, Smarty Jones, passing through Arkansas on their way to Louisville, it seems prudent to pay close attention to the preps run at the Hot Springs oval. Today’s race features a field of seven three-year-old colts going a flat mile in hopes of taking down the lion’s share of the $100,000 purse. Favoritism should boil down to three recent stakes winners, Archarcharch, Caleb’s Posse, and Grant Jack. Of the three, I see Archarcharch as the most interesting, and the one with the best chance to make some noise on the First Saturday of May.
A son of Arch, out of the Woodman mare, Woodman‘s Dancer, Archarcharch has only made two starts to date. The first came in a maiden race at Churchill Downs where he rallied strongly to finish second. Running greenly that day, the big dark bay had trouble switching leads, and tossed his head around as if not quite sure what the game was all about. Despite the troubles, his physicality and powerful strides were apparent. His trainer, Jinks Fires, certainly did not lack confidence, and brought back the maiden in a stakes race for his next start.
That came in Fair Ground’s Sugar Bowl Stakes on December 18. Ridden by the son-in-law of the trainer, Jon Court, Archarcharch showed much more speed than he did in his first start. Collaring the speedy Joe Hollywood early in the lane, he methodically wore down his rival to win going away. Even in the winning of a stakes races in his second start, the colt showed signs of immaturity, and had to be kept to task by Court. Clearly Archarcharch is still learning.
The Sugar Bowl win aside, it is the future that most interests me for the distance bred colt. If he is good enough to win a sprint stakes in only his second start, think what the future might hold for him as he matures and runs distances more suited to his abilities. Today he will have his first opportunity to run around two-turns. The Smarty Jones thus should be a good gauge to see his improvement and his affinity for more distance, that his breeding suggests. Things will only get tougher after today, and he will need to keep improving, but going into today’s race, Archarcharch is on my short list of sophomores with a ton of potential to keep a close eye on with the Kentucky Derby in mind.