09/05/2016 7:21PM

Awesome Slew all the way in Smarty Jones Stakes

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Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
Awesome Slew and jockey Paco Lopez win the Smarty Jones Stakes by seven lengths.

BENSALEM, Pa. – The gate was full for the Grade 3, $300,000 Smarty Jones at Parx Racing on Monday as 14 3-year-olds went to the post in the 1 1/16-mile stakes. But when the gates opened, Paco Lopez quickly turned the race into a one-horse affair as he smoothly put Awesome Slew on the lead from post 14.

"I used to ride Quarter Horses, you know," Lopez joked after the race.

Once Awesome Slew made the front, the race was basically over. He ran his rivals off their feet, held an eight-length lead at the furlong pole, and coasted home under mild urging to win by seven lengths. He paid $23.80 and was timed in 1:42.92.

Wild About Deb finished second, four lengths ahead of Seeking the Soul.

Awesome Slew's performance has been a long time in the making. A son of Awesome Again owned by the Live Oak Plantation of Charlotte Weber, he has had to overcome a lot of adversity for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr., who has made quite clear this summer how highly he thinks of the colt.

Awesome Slew came out of a fourth-place finish last year in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga with an ankle chip, then got very sick over the winter in Florida with colitis. Since recovering, he has had to play catch-up all season.

Plesa finally thought he had Awesome Slew at his best for the Haskell Invitational, but the track came up sloppy, and the horse didn't handle it, losing by 32 lengths.

"It's like you can't keep coming up with excuses," Plesa said. "This win is very gratifying. Paco deserves a ton of credit, and so does the horse and my entire crew, especially the head of the team, Charlotte Weber."

The Smarty Jones win was especially meaningful, Plesa said, because the race is named after Smarty Jones, whom his brother-in-law John Servis, sent out to win the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Awesome Slew's win didn't appear to take much out of him, but Plesa said he most likely wouldn't wheel him back in 19 days in the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.

"My gut feeling is probably not," Plesa said, "but I will listen to him extra hard and see what he tells me. It's a little quick to come back against that caliber of horses."

The win capped a big weekend at Parx for Lopez, who on Saturday guided Cathryn Sophia to an easy victory in the $150,000 Princess of Sylmar Stakes for Servis. The race was a prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion, where Cathryn Sophia is expected to meet the still-undefeated 2-year-old filly champion of 2015, Songbird.