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Smarty Jones Stakes Preview

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A field of nine lines up in the 2013 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the first official Road to the Kentucky Derby race in Arkansas this spring.

Wesley Hitt

Today's Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park is, for the first time, a part of the official Road to the Kentucky Derby, although it's not a graded stakes race (meaning, it wasn't a Derby prep in the past). The race is probably not going to turn out to be a key race on the road to Louisville but it does appear to be is a testing ground for a group of Derby hopefuls to determine whether they'll be possible contenders or merely pretenders.

Let's take a look at some of the contenders for today's Smarty Jones Stakes --

I don't like the 2/1 morning line favorite, 3-Avare, and for a very specific reason: I'm not sold on him as a dirt runner. Yeah, he won over the dirt last time out at Santa Anita, but the track was Wet/Fast and sealed that deal. Before that? He was all synthetic/turf. Additionally, that last effort at Santa Anita, where he won by 4 ¼ and popped the biggest figure of his career by 20 points (at least on the Beyer scale), just seems out of place within the whole picture. Throw in short odds and I have too many questions to seriously back this colt, even though this field is pretty weak on paper.

I think 2-Always in a Tiz (9/2) is the stone cold standout in this field. He's run well in both of his starts, including a good second to Vyjack in the Taskwood at Aqueduct when he was six lengths clear of the show horse, Black Hornet. Vyjack came back to win the G2-Jerome in his next start. Always in a Tiz can sit one or just off the lead and should have enough stamina in the bloodlines to get another furlong. I'm not sure if this colt would want to go 10 furlogns, but he's not in that situation in this race.

If there's a horse I'm going to avoid like the plague in the smarty Jones, it's 4-Texas Bling (10/1), winner of the Springboard Mile at Remington in his last start. He beat three of today's rivals in the Springboard - Will Take Charge, Best of Birdstone and King Henny - but I think that's a reflection on the weakness of those horses rather than a sign of strength from Texas Bling.

Several things I don't like about Texas Bling. First, that Springboard win looks really out of place on the past performance line; the phrase "bounce" leaps off the page at me. Not only was that the best race of his career, it was the best race by a country mile. In his previous nine starts (eight of which involved him attempting to break his maiden), he struggled to run a race anywhere near as good as his last effort. There was a reason he was 129/1 when he loaded into the gate at Remington in early December.

I suppose one could make the argument that Texas Bling got better when they decided to stretch him out to a mile, but as a son of Too Much Bling (and out of a humble dam), I just don't see a lot of stamina in the pedigree. And perhaps he's simply a late developer, but I'm staying away from this colt.

8-Brown Almighty (4/1) is attracting a lot of attention due to his pedigree and his first attempt on dirt. Based on his family, dirt shouldn't be an issue (something confirmed by several very solid works over the Oaklawn main track the last month). He flopped pretty badly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf when he faded badly in the stretch after briefly leading. I think we can probably chalk up that effort due to the non-Lasix issue; anytime I see a horse completely hit the wall like Brown Almighty did at Santa Anita, especially in a "first off Lasix" situation, I'm thinking there's an excuse.

7-King Henny (6/1)... perhaps he can get a mile but given his pedigree I'm thinking this colt is going to find his success in the six to seven furlong range.

The Pick

It's not a sexy pick, but Always in a Tiz appears to be the standout in the Smarty Jones. I like him at anything at 5/2 or higher on the tote board, possibly down to 2/1.

Smarty Jones Stakes; Post Time: 5:38pm Eastern
PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Stormy Holiday S. Martinez M. Robertson 15/1
2 Always in a Tiz P. Lopez D. Schettino 9/2
3 Avare K. Krigger D. O'Neill 2/1
4 Texas Bling M. Berry D. Durham 10/1
5 Best of Birdstone L. Quinonez D. Von Hemel 20/1
6 Officer Alex S. Elliott L. Whiting 6/1
7 King Henny R. Albarado S. Asmussen 6/1
8 Brown Almighty C. Nakatani T. Ice 4/1
9 Will Take Charge J. Court D.W. Lukas 10/1