Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Smarty Jones Stakes

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Smarty Jones Stakes
Photo: Coady Photography

Oaklawn Park kicks off its series of prep races for the 2021 Kentucky Derby on Friday. The listed Smarty Jones Stakes, named for the undefeated Kentucky Derby winner, attracted a field of seven 3-year-old colts and geldings who will travel a mile. Qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 will be awarded to the top four finishers.

See opening day entries for Oaklawn Park here.

Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast and I discuss the field and our selections.




Martini Blu had a nice debut at Hawthorne, sitting in the pocket before taking over at the 3/16-pole. His speed figure is average, so he will need to step it up here.

In his debut, Martini Blu came from off the pace to beat a suspect group of maidens at Hawthorne by 5 1/4-lengths, after passing the faltering runner-up. The McLean Robertson trainee was a bit green in the stretch, coming in on the second-place horse before straightening out. Martini Blu earned the highest late-pace Brisnet speed figure in the field despite the workmanlike victory. If he is successful, Martini Blu would be the first winner of the Smarty Jones winner to have captured it in his second start. 



This son of Congrats also comes into this race via Hawthorne. So far his speed figures have been nothing to write home about, but he will be sporting blinkers for the first time when he enters the Smarty Jones starting gate. They could sharpen him up, but he will also need to take a pretty big step forward to pick up a check.

In his first start facing winners, Lawlessness looked like he was texting and driving down the Hawthorne lane in his last start. Swerving, slowing, speeding up, but all the while gaining on the front-runners.  Ingrid Mason slaps a shiny new set of blinkers on the son of Congrats to help him focus. Lawlessness is out of an Awesome Again half-sister to Alabama Stakes (G1) heroine Sweet Symphony, and his second dam is a half-sister to the great Holy Bull. Extra distance should suit Lawlessness if he can focus on not breaking the law.



Favored Cowan has just one win in six starts, but this Kantharos colt has been incredibly competitive in stakes company, including a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2). His efforts have come on dirt and turf, at distances from 4 1/2 furlongs to a mile. Look for him to start picking off competitors into the turn.

Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G2) runner-up Cowan is undoubtedly the class of the Smarty Jones, and if the race were contested on the lawn, he’d be my win pick. But despite showing his preference for turf, here he is, trying to be something he isn’t. The Steve Asmussen trainee finished a distant 5 3/4-length second in the Springboard Mile, beating Red N’ Wild by 3 3/4-lengths. That one returned to finish last in the LeComte.


Big Thorn’s best effort came in state-bred company down in Florida, where he won going away in a 7-furlong off the turf event. He followed that up with a distant sixth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. With both career victories in state-bred company, I have to pass here.

Big Thorn easily conquered state-bred runners at Gulfstream West but had his tail handed to him in the listed Mucho Macho Man Stakes, beaten 13 lengths. The Big Beast's son makes his first start for the Asmussen barn, but I agree with Ashley that he’s a pass.



No need for grandiose speeches here. Hardly Swayed has two wins from four starts, both victories coming at Mahoning Valley Race Course. The colt’s speed figures are the worst in the field, and he has never attempted two turns. Hard pass.

Hardly Swayed faces his first stakes test after beating up on allowance types at Mahoning Valley Race Course. His last race was a paid workout, and he just galloped around the track, clearly enjoying himself, while the rest were whipping and driving. I’m puzzled about why he was there in the first place. This is a Debby Oxley-bred son of Bernardini out of a full sister to New Money Honey, whose Grade 1 victories include the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Belmont Oaks Invitational. Further, his second dam is a full sister to Haskell (G1) winner Any Given Saturday. Martin Garcia, who had a rough 2020, will be aboard. Like Ashley said, his speed figures are the worst in the field, but I like this guy.



Speedy Moonlite Strike is 2-for-3 lifetime, with both victories coming on the front end. His best speed figure is among the top of this bunch. This will be his first attempt in stakes company, but I think this son of Liam’s Map stands a good chance.

Moonlite Strike reared at the start of his last race, an allowance/optional claimer at Gulfstream Park. He was in tight at the rail, but it didn’t deter him as he contested the pace. The Joseph Saffie Jr. trainee was green in the stretch, wandering and swishing his tail as Edgard Zayas aggressively tried to keep the colt’s mind on running. They held off the late rush of Kiger by a neck. That one finished eighth next out. Joe Talamo should keep this son of Liam’s Map focused during the Smarty Jones. I’m not impressed with the horse but have to respect the connections.



By the hot Hard Spun, Caddo River has improved with each start, his speed figures steadily climbing. With the short field, I love that he is the outside speed. Depending on the break, Florent Geroux can send him hard for the lead or sit back just a bit. All of his races have been at top-tier tracks, giving him quite the advantage over most of the others.

There’s a lot to like about Caddo River. He found the winner’s circle in his third start when stretching to a mile. His race splits were decent, and his final time over the Churchill track was a decent 1:35.22. Hard Spun's son is out of stakes winner and multiple graded placed miler Pangburn, an honest mare who hit the board in nine of 17 tries. Brad Cox gave Caddo River a pre-race breeze of  5F in 1:00.40, second-best of 47 works of the day. 


Final Thoughts

Ashley: I am not overly impressed with this field. Several of them are hailing from lesser tracks, making me question their class. While Cowan is the morning-line favorite, that is not the direction in which I’m leaning. In the words of Blaze from Blaze and the Monster Machines, “give me some speed!”

Blaze and the Monster Machines? Sounds like a retro punk band. But you’re right. The last four editions of the Smarty Jones were won by pacesetters. Four of the five won or placed in their previous start. Caddo River fits the front-running speed profile. He owns the only triple-digit early and mid-race speed figures in the field in his last two starts and is coming into the race the right way. Hardly Swayed intrigues me. It’s true that his speed figures aren’t all that, yet he’s one of the best-bred colts in the field, and the stretch out should suit.






#7 CADDO RIVER (5-2)

#7 CADDO RIVER (5-2)



#3 COWAN (9-5)

#3 COWAN (9-5)

#1 MARTINI BLU (6-1)



Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

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Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

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