©2015 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.
The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” takes us to Hot Springs, Arkansas, Monday, where Mr. Z will go to the starting gate as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the 8th running of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Of the nine young horses entered in the Smarty Jones, Mr. Z appears to be the deserving favorite. In eight starts, seven of those in stakes competition, he’s only been off the board twice and he comes into this race with a 1-4-1 record for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
His last two starts have been especially noteworthy. In November, Mr. Z lost by a narrow nose to the very nice colt, Ocho Ocho Ocho, in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3). A month later, Mr. Z showed a lot of grit in the Los Alamitos Futurity Stakes (G1) to finish third by a neck to Dortmund, the Wynn Las Vegas 7-1 pre-Derby favorite.
Ranked seventh with 10 Derby points, Mr. Z, is a proven, competitive colt and a win in the Smarty Jones Stakes would give him a total of 20 points, putting him in third place in the point standings.
Two recent back-to-back bullet work outs could have Mr. Z ready to run another good race.
In his last race, Far Right (6-1) finished third in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3), four lengths behind Mr. Z. Far Right is yet to win a stakes race and he comes into this race with a 1-2-2 record in six starts for trainer Ron Moquett.
It remains to be seen if Far Right can improve his game as a three year old and make it to the winner’s circle in stakes competition. But, with jockey Mike Smith picking up the mount, it looks like the owners Robert V. Lapenta and Harry T. Rosenblum are hoping Far Right can turn the tables on Mr. Z and be victorious in the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Private Prospect (6-1) comes into this race with a 3-1-0 record in five starts for trainer Michael Campbell.
In his last race, Private Prospect ran poorly in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But he’s never finished worse than second in his previous four starts and three of those were in stakes competition.
Campbell is dropping Private Prospect back to a mile, which I think is more to his liking, and he’s picking up the services of jockey Alex Birzer who rode him in two of previous victories.
Private Prospect has been training well at Oaklawn and, if he can return to the form of his win in the Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile Stakes, he could be competitive in the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Since finishing third in his maiden debut at Saratoga last July, Bayerd (9-2) has accumulated an overall 3-1-1 record in five starts for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Last September, Bayerd scored his first stakes win in the Kip Deville Stakes at Remington Park. A month later at the same track, he finished second in the Clever Trevor Stakes and he closed his two-year-old racing season in December with a win in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes.
“Bayerd is a nice horse who has run five very good races,” said Asmussen in an Oaklawn Park news release. “He won his last race at a mile so the Smarty Jones is a good spot to start his three-year-old campaign.”
Jockey Ramon Vazquez guided Bayerd to victory in his last race and he retains the mount in the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes will receive 10 points, the second-place finisher will receive 4 points, the third-place finisher will receive 2 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive one point. Here’s a look at the current top twenty Derby qualifiers:
2015 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. El Kabeir, 21, John Terranova II, $330,792
2. International Star, 21, Mike Maker, $250,979
3. Carpe Diem, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
4. Calculator, 14, Peter Miller, $180,000
5. Texas Red, 12, Keith Desormeaux, $1,136,000
6. Ocho Ocho Ocho, 10, Jim Cassidy, $660,000
7. Mr. Z, 10, D. Wayne Lukas, $473,326
8. American Pharoah, 10, Bob Baffert, $360,000
9. Daredevil, 10, Todd Pletcher, $300,000
10. Dortmund, 10, Bob Baffert, $300,000
11. Leave the Light On, 10, Chad Brown, $240,000
12. Lucky Player, 10, Steve Asmussen, $96,481
13. Upstart, 6, Rick Violette Jr., $300,000
14. Bold Conquest, 6, Steve Asmussen, $72,176
15. Conquest Typhoon, 4, Mark Casse, $221,827
16. Imperia, 4, Kiaran McLaughlin, $163,804
17. Firing Line, 4, Simon Callaghan, $100,000
18. Frosted, 4, Kiaran McLaughlin, $80,000
19. Nasa, 4, John Servis, $40,000
19. War Story, 4, Tom Amoss, $40,000