It’s always striking to see how inclusion on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” prep race schedule can transform otherwise ordinary stakes races into can’t-miss events filled with classy horses.
Need an example? The $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes on Friday, Jan. 24 at Oaklawn Park paints the perfect picture. It’s not a graded stakes race, and its purse is fairly modest. But the one-mile race offers 10 Kentucky Derby qualification points to the winner, sufficient to attract five stakes winners to the entry box among a nine-horse field.
Remarkably, four of these stakes winners are conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who secured his landmark 1,000th stakes victory Jan. 18. His quality quartet includes Silver Prospector (#2), winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes; Shoplifted (#7), who rallied to victory in the Remington Springboard Mile; Gold Street (#6), a front-running winner of the Sugar Bowl Stakes; and Jungle Runner (#5), fourth in the Springboard Mile but previously triumphant in the Clever Trevor Stakes.
The fifth and final stakes winner in the Smarty Jones field is Nucky (#4), who sprung a 35-1 upset in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity last summer. Trained by Peter Miller, this son of Ghostzapper is technically the most accomplished runner in the Smarty Jones field, though he has been beaten by a combined 65 1/2 lengths in his previous two starts and will be a longshot on Friday.
Among the Asmussen trainees, Silver Prospector and Shoplifted stand out as the most promising prospects. Silver Prospector hasn’t missed the trifecta in three starts on dirt and successfully rallied from behind a slow pace to defeat a quality field in the Kentucky Jockey Club. One of his beaten rivals was Enforceable, who returned to win the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes Jan. 18 at Fair Grounds on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Shoplifted has also shown talent, rallying fast to win a three-way battle for victory in the Remington Springboard Mile. Shoplifted doesn’t have as strong a pedigree as Silver Prospector for handling the 1 ¼-mile classic distance, and while this shouldn’t come into play for the Smarty Jones — Shoplifted is already proven at this one-mile distance — it’s worth noting jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. has jumped ship to retain the mount on Silver Prospector.
The simplest strategy for betting the Smarty Jones Stakes is to place a hefty win wager on Silver Prospector and call it a day. He looms as the most logical winner on paper, and Santana’s decision to stay aboard is a vote of confidence in Silver Prospector’s chances.
But if you want to shoot for a big payoff, why not play the trifecta and key Silver Prospector with longshot Shared Sense (#3)? Considering the quality of the Smarty Jones field, it might seem odd to focus our attention on a 0-for-3 maiden who has yet to visit the winner’s circle. But Shared Sense is a well-bred prospect with a lot of potential, and he might be sitting on a surprisingly big effort this Friday.
Conditioned by Brad Cox, Shared Sense kicked off his career in a maiden sprint at Keeneland last fall, where he ironically finished fourth behind Silver Prospector. The colt by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense subsequently stretched out to a mile at Churchill Downs and battled hard to finish second behind Lynn’s Map (#8), who will join Shared Sense in the Smarty Jones field.
Shared Sense most recently competed in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Churchill Downs, where he encountered a sloppy, speed-favoring track. Despite this obstacle, he successfully rallied to finish second behind Blackberry Wine, who appears poised to join the Derby trail after impressively winning an allowance race at Fair Grounds last week.
These promising bits of form suggest Shared Sense has the talent to vie for a spot in the Smarty Jones trifecta. Conservative bettors might play him only for second and third place, but we’ll go all-out, playing him on top of one ticket. As a son of Street Sense out of a Bernardini mare, Shared Sense is bred to improve with maturity, so with any luck he’ll deliver a career-best performance on Friday and spruce up the payoffs at a big price.
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$4 trifecta: 2 with 3 with 6,7,8 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Oaklawn Park, 8th race, $4 trifecta 2 with 3 with 6,7,8
$4 trifecta: 2 with 6,7,8 with 3 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Oaklawn Park, 8th race, $4 trifecta 2 with 6,7,8 with 3
$2 trifecta: 3 with 2 with 6,7,8 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Oaklawn Park, 8th race, $2 trifecta 3 with 2 with 6,7,8
Good luck, and enjoy the race!