Photo: Coady Photography
It was supposed to be ladies day at Oaklawn, but no one explained that to the lightly raced Junebugred, who rallied late to win the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes by a neck over Reckless Jerry while filly On Fire Baby settled for third as the heavy 3-to-2 favorite.
With jockey Joe Bravo flying in from his winter base in Florida, Junebugred relaxed nicely behind the contested pace of the one-mile race. When five horses fanned across the track turning for home, Bravo sent his diminutive colt to the inside to squeeze past them and dart clear at 6-1 for owners Alex and Joann Lieblong. The Corinthian colt stopped the clock in 1:38.45.
“He has shown us a lot of talent from right when we first got him,” said trainer Steve Hobby. “I had to call Alex all the time and tell him you won't believe this little red horse just outworked them all again. He outworks everybody.”
Reckless Jerry was compromised by starting from post 12, travelling five-wide around both turns under jockey Shane Laviolette, but still threatened the winner late in the race. On Fire Baby broke from post 10 and also raced wide around both turns, finishing just a little over a length from the winner.
“That extra distance isn't going to hurt him,” said Reckless Jerry’s trainer Kenny Smith referring to the distances of Oaklawn’s other races for 3-year-olds coming later in the meet. The next race in the series, the Feb. 20 Southwest Stakes (G3), is also at a mile. The 1 1/16th-mile Rebel Stakes (G2) is March 17 and the 1 1/8th-mile Arkansas Derby (G1) is April 14.
“She ran OK,” said Gary ‘Red Dog’ Hartlage, trainer of On Fire Baby. “She didn't run as well as I thought she would, but the effort was really good, especially for first time against colts, but I don’t think you’ve seen her best yet.”
Hobby is also thinking Junebugred will stay close to home this winter, though the young colt named for a fishing lure that helped the owner’s son win a pro fishing tournament will be carefully handled.
“He's not a big strapping colt, and he is so young,” he said. “He's still got quite a ways until his third birthday, so we will be thinking of that as we pick out a spot.”
Junebugred is now 2-for-3 with a maiden win coming in a one-turn mile at Aqueduct in November.
Live racing resumes Thursday with a 1:30 p.m. first post.
Owner Alex Lieblong, winner Junebugred – “It sure is fun to win here at Oaklawn and for Mr. Cella. It is something special here and everywhere I go I tell people how lucky we are to have a track owner who loves horse racing. He's a great sportsman and I love all that he's done for the game.”
On how the horse got his name:
“My son (Jason Lieblong) had won a fishing tournament and they were interviewing him afterward on TV asking how he won, and he said he used a June Bug Red lure. I thought that would make a great name for a horse. And so when this horse was born so late in May, I figured that's close enough to June and he is red, so the name fit.”
Trainer Steve Hobby, winner Junebugred – “He has shown us a lot of talent from right when we first got him. I had to call Alex all the time and tell him you won't believe this little red horse just outworked them all again. He outworks everybody.”
On what’s next:
“We're here. You always have to look around, but we will see how it is, but unless something were to make me look elsewhere, I imagine we will look at the races here. He's not a big strapping colt, and he is so young. He's still got quite a ways until his third birthday, so we will be thinking of that as we pick out a spot.”
Winning Jockey Joe Bravo, aboard Junebugred – “Mr. Lieblong has been telling me all along how nice this horse is. I was supposed to ride him in his first race last year at Monmouth, but it didn’t work out. He’s a horse that seems to be progressing in the right direction. “We had planned on going to the lead, but that not working out was for the best. He got covered up and then relaxed. I definitely hope they bring me back to ride him in his next race.”
Trainer Kenny Smith, second with Reckless Jerry – “We just wanted to try and make the race fair. We got outrun by a great horse. It was good seeing him keep on running. That 1 1/16th miles isn't going to hurt him. I’m pleased with the way he ran today.
Jockey Shane Laviolette, second aboard Reckless Jerry – “When you’re in the twelve hole like that, it’s easy to get stuck. We were just stuck six wide the whole way and you can lose ground like that. Junebugred snuck through on us. We ran real well. He picked up horses nice and at one point, I thought he’d win. I look forward to the next ride.”
Trainer Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage, third with On Fire Baby – “She ran OK. She didn't run as well as I thought she would, but the effort was really good, especially for first time against colts and everything that comes from being outside. We are not sure where we go from here. We just want to get her back before we think about anything like that, but I don't think you've seen her best race yet.
Jockey Joe Johnson, third aboard the favorite On Fire Baby – “She ran good and really hard. She definitely competed with the boys. They knew she was in there. A mile is just too short for her. Watch her when she stretches out. I’m just glad to be a part of the team and to get to ride her.”