The Oaklawn Park route to the classics begins Monday when the Hot Springs, Arkansas, course hosts the $100,000 Smarty Jones S. over one mile. The series will continue on February 21 with the Southwest S. (G3) at one mile, followed by the March 19 Rebel S. (G2) at 1 1/16 miles and the April 16 Arkansas Derby (G1) over nine furlongs. Seven colts were entered for the Smarty Jones, with favoritism likely to center on ARCHARCHARCH (Arch) and CALEB'S POSSE (Posse).
The more lightly-raced of the two, Archarcharch has the most upside and arguably the pedigree to go farther as the distances increase. Runner-up in his maiden debut at Churchill Downs in late November, the dark bay returned to action in the December 18 Sugar Bowl S. at Fair Grounds over six furlongs. Tracking in third down the backside, Archarcharch turned in a fine run in the stretch to win going away by 1 3/4 lengths. He'll be reunited with Jon Court, who rides for his father-in-law trainer Jinks Fires.
Caleb's Posse won two of his first four starts on Polytrack and ran a close third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) on the same surface. He proved sufficiently capable on dirt, too, when romping home by 5 1/2 lengths in the Clever Trevor S. at Remington Park two back, but turned in an inexplicable performance in the Springboard Mile over the same track last time. The 4-5 favorite in that race, Caleb's Posse tracked in fourth early but gave way around the far turn and wound up seventh, beaten more than 11 lengths.
Eddie Razo Jr., who was aboard for his maiden victory at Arlington in August, is back up on the Donnie Von Hemel charge.