Kentucky Derby 2020 Radar: Smarty Jones Stakes shapes up

January 15, 2020 10:45am
Kentucky Derby 2020 Radar: Smarty Jones Stakes shapes up
Photo: Coady Photography

A week out from its Jan. 24 opening day, Oaklawn Park will take entries for the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, a one-mile event that also marks the start of the track’s 2020 Kentucky Derby trail.

Paul McClelland, a former trainer now working as Oaklawn’s stakes coordinator, was still piecing together the possibilities mid-week from a list of 51 nominations. But the headliners will clearly come from the Steve Asmussen barn.

Last out Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) winner Silver Prospector and Remington Springboard Mile hero Shoplifted make up Asmussen’s potent 1-2 punch. Both carry in 10 Derby qualifying points and will try to double their totals in a race that pays out on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the Top 4 finishers.

Annually, it takes roughly 30 points to make the Derby gate.

Ed and Susie Orr’s Silver Prospector, a Declaration of War colt, started on the turf but has since scored both his victories on dirt. Between breaking his maiden at Keeneland and winning the Kentucky Jockey Club, he ran third going a mile in Churchill Downs’ Street Sense Stakes; but that was at a one-turn configuration.

In the two-turn Kentucky Jockey Club, Silver Prospector used a grinding sort of drive to the finish for a 7.9-1 upset over a sloppy, sealed track. One negative for him in the Smarty Jones? Sprinting to Oaklawn’s first finish line in a short stretch could negate that same type of rally.

Shoplifted, an Into Mischief colt, rebounded with a change of scenery. The Saratoga debut winner was Grade 1-placed heading out to California but didn’t find his footing when missing the board in Santa Anita Park’s American Pharoah Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Wheeled back last month in Oklahoma City, Shoplifted showed some renewed kick, prevailing while running widest in a three-horse skirmish to the wire. His pedigree carries sprint influences, though he just won a similar class of race going the Smarty Jones’ distance.

Ricardo Santana Jr., Asmussen’s first call rider, was aboard both Silver Prospector and Shoplifted in their prior starts. His decision for the Smarty Jones could determine favoritism.

Others expected in the Smarty Jones include New York allowance winner Three Technique, part of trainer Jeremiah Englehart’s new Oaklawn string; Shared Sense, a maiden defeated by stakes-caliber runners in a pair of November maiden flights at Churchill Downs; and Lykan, a likely longshot from the Ingrid Mason barn.

The Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh also reported a potentially significant addition to the field in Lynn’s Map, who’s 5-1 on the morning line for Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds but drew outside in a field of 14. The Mark Casse trainee could ship for the Smarty Jones, with the decision pending Friday’s draw and any defections that make the Lecomte post position easier to stomach.

The money in Oaklawn’s road to the Derby escalates significantly beyond the Smarty Jones and should result in more competition on the circuit. The $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) runs Feb. 17, the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 14 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 11.

Among those expected to join the series later are Answer In, the Brad Cox-trained runner-up of the Springboard Mile; Hopeful Stakes (G1) hero Basin; and Ancient Warrior, a Jerry Hollendorfer trainee who debuted a winner Nov. 23 at Del Mar.

Expect to see Ancient Warrior trying the local allowance ranks before hopping on the trail at Oaklawn, while it remains to be seen what trainer John Sadler decides to do with multiple California turf stakes winner Encoder. Sadler’s string of horses arrived this week to Oaklawn, and Encoder, an English Channel colt, was nominated to try dirt in the Smarty Jones.

2020 Smarty Jones Stakes (LS)


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About the Derby Radar

Back for the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail, Horse Racing Nation's Derby Radar seeks to identify promising maiden, allowance and even stakes winners who could target points-paying preps down the line. We'll cover the buzz horses, of course, then using a systematic approach based on past years' Derby contenders identify other talented colts moving up the ladder.

Did we miss one? Email editor Jonathan Lintner ( if you know of a horse that should be on the radar.

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