01/20/2015 11:38AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Smarty Jones Stakes


$150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, one mile, Oaklawn, Jan. 19, 2015
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Far Right
Trainer: Ron Moquett
Jockey: Mike Smith
Owner: Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum
Beyer Speed Figure: 89

FAR RIGHT ended his 2-year-old campaign with a deceptively good third-place finish in the Delta Jackpot and prevailed here to begin his 3-year-old campaign, but the overall quality of this race is in question.

FAR RIGHT could not have had a better trip. Last early while AMERICAN SAILOR and MR. Z carved out quick fractions of 23.17 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.92 seconds for a half-mile, he remained on the rail almost the whole way. Though he had just the slightest bit of a traffic snarl three furlongs out, FAR RIGHT had to go around just one horse (LUCKY PLAYER) on the final turn, then rallied up the rail as the pace collapsed, closing into a final quarter that went in 26.64 seconds.

Oaklawn does have a terrific series of Kentucky Derby preps, and FAR RIGHT took the proper first step down that road, but the waters figure to get deeper later on this meet. He will need to improve to be among the elite of this division.

With the notable exception of the zig-zag pulled off by MR. Z in the stretch run, this was a fairly uneventful race in terms of trips.

BAYERD, who finished second, took a bit of an awkward step leaving the gate, settled into a nice spot just behind and outside the dueling leaders, was asked very hard with three furlongs to go, didn’t make any impact initially, raced on his wrong lead from the top of the stretch to 50 yards before the wire, and got second more because the pace collapsed than anything else.

MR. Z got the headlines for his antics down the stretch, but he’s tried to do this before. After the Los Alamitos Futurity, I wrote in that race’s recap that jockey Mike Smith said after the race that "his left arm ached from the effort and that if he had let Mr. Z drift, he would have interfered with the horses next to him.”

Well, in this race, MR. Z found himself outside his pace rival, not inside, so there was nothing to stop him from turning right, and there he went. MR. Z stalked the early pace of AMERICAN SAILOR, was clearly trying to lug out at the five-furlong marker, then bolted a furlong out when jockey Jon Court hit him left handed after using his left rein to keep him from lugging out. MR. Z went back to his task when Court went back to whipping right-handed, but MR Z could only finish third.

In that earlier Los Alamitos Futurity recap, I wrote of MR. Z  that “it will be interesting to see if his antics in this race were a one-time issue or a preview of coming attractions.” Well, now we know. His behavior in the Smarty Jones was even worse. Horses don’t do that without reason. He’s headed the wrong way. Obviously Mike Smith must have thought so, for he did not ride MR Z back, and won the race with FAR RIGHT.

PRIVATE PROSPECT, who was fourth, was three paths wide on the first turn while outside LUCKY PLAYER, had to wait ever so slightly three furlongs out to avoid the fading RUNAWAY BLING, then went evenly.

AMERICAN SAILOR, who finished fifth, popped the gate, was pressed up front by MR. Z, and could not sustain the quick pace.

Sixth-place finisher HEBBRONVILLE bumped slightly at the start with LUCKY PLAYER, was well back early, and passed tired rivals in a race whose pace flattered his late-running style.

PAID ADMISSION, who was seventh, bobbled slightly the first jump out of the gate, was well back throughout, was caught four paths wide on the far turn, and never threatened.

LUCKY PLAYER, who finished eighth, has seen his form decline since his victory in the first scoring race on the road to the Derby, the Iroquois Stakes last September. After bumping slightly with HEBBRONVILLE at the start, he fell into a gorgeous trip - on the rail behind the rapid pace - but when asked aggressively with three furlongs to go, he had nothing.

RUNAWAY BLING, who finished last of nine, was four paths wide on the first turn, three paths wide on the far turn, then faded like the 91-1 shot he was in this race.