01/19/2016 8:54AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Smarty Jones Stakes


$150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, one mile, Oaklawn Park, Jan. 18, 2016
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Discreetness (sire: Discreet Cat)
Trainer: Jinks Fires
Jockey: Jon Court
Owner: Xpress Thoroughbreds LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 83

Oaklawn has an important series of preps toward the Kentucky Derby, with one scoring race per month, beginning with the Smarty Jones and culminating with the Arkansas Derby, the race American Pharoah used last year as his final start prior to the Triple Crown. One of the compelling aspects about the Oaklawn series is that horses from many locales often ship in for the races, and that was the case here, with runners from California, Kentucky, and New York in the field.

Race winner DISCREETNESS was based at Churchill Downs at age 2, but made only two of his five starts there, including a fourth-place finish behind Mo Tom – the winner of the Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 16 – in the Street Sense on Nov. 1.

In the Smarty Jones, Discreetness broke out ever so slightly at the start but secured an ideal position heading into and around the first turn, racing in third, in the clear, behind two dueling leaders. He moved up three paths wide on the far turn to go after TOEWS ON ICE and GORDY FLORIDA, was put to an aggressive ride with a quarter-mile to go and initially did not appear to be advancing. But he made a move into the lane to engage Gordy Florida, responded when Court switched to a left-handed whip and got up.

Discreetness received a lifetime-best Beyer Speed Figure, but with his pedigree – by Discreet Cat out of an Elusive Quality mare – he gives the indication a mile might be the outer limit of his comfort zone. He’ll get his chance, though, in subsequent starts at Oaklawn.

Gordy Florida, who finished second, ran too well to lose. He dueled with the hot favorite, Toews On Ice, through the first six furlongs while racing just to his outside, put away Toews On Ice, was immediately tackled by Discreetness, battled bravely but yielded late. This was his first start around two turns, and he ran well, but his pedigree (by Cactus Ridge, a son of Hennessy) is very speed-oriented.

SYNCHRONY, who was third, broke a bit awkwardly and had no speed, so he was last of 11 early while being guided to the three path. He looked like he would find quite a bit of traffic heading into the far turn but was deftly guided to the rail by Shaun Bridgmohan to save ground, did not swap over to his right lead until nearly a sixteenth out while bumping with Gray Sky, and continued to close steadily. This was his first try around two turns and, more so than the top two, he looks like he wants far more ground. If I had to take anyone out of this race going forward, it would be him.

LUNA DE LOCO, who was fourth, was a bit flat-footed leaving the gate but used his rail draw to secure a good position toward the first half of the field, inside, behind the leaders. He had to come around only one horse - Toews On Ice - on the far turn, then went evenly through the lane while unable to gain on the top pair. This was only his second start, and his first around two turns, so there’s plenty of upside, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever get a better trip.

GRAY SKY, who finished fifth, bobbled leaving the gate but wound up mid-pack, three paths wide, around the first turn. He raced in some traffic between rivals down the backstretch, got clear midway around the far turn, then went one-paced through the lane and bumped with Synchrony.

Toews On Ice, who finished sixth, showed his customary good early speed to vie for the lead, appeared to be going comfortably enough down the backstretch, began to lose ground to Gordy Florida approaching upper stretch, was slightly late to change leads after turning into the lane, then faded without much of a fight. He raced in five sprints before going two turns, and while his first two-turn try, in the Los Alamitos Futurity, wasn’t bad, he looked like he wanted no part of route races here.

The rest were well-beaten.

CHARMING DEPUTY, who was seventh, raced near the back of the pack while in the two path around the first turn, lost ground into the backstretch and fell back to last, was urged beginning with a half-mile to go, got to the rail in the clear on the far turn, but never made any impact.

SHOGOOD, who was eighth, had good speed away from the gate, but his outside draw caused him to be four paths wide around the first turn. He remained four wide down the backstretch and into the far turn, was urged three furlongs out, but had no response and steadily dropped back.

FORCE IT, who was ninth, stumbled a stride out of the gate, raced four to five paths wide on the first turn while near the rear outside of Synchrony, remained well wide to the far turn, and was badly outrun thereafter.

BLACK OPS, who was 10th, was restrained early and wound up near the back of the pack early on while racing three to four paths wide. He was even wider down the backstretch, and when it was time to rally he went in reverse.

BACK TOGETHERAGAIN, who finished last of 11, broke last and then was guided to the rail to save ground around the first turn while toward the rear. He followed Luna de Loco into the backstretch, but began to lose contact nearing the far turn and was badly beaten.