01/17/2017 1:26PM

Road to the Derby: Smarty Jones Stakes

Coady Photography
Uncontested took to the sloppy track at Oaklawn and won the Smarty Jones Stakes.

$150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes; one mile; Oaklawn Park; Jan. 16, 2017
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Uncontested, by Tiz Wonderful
Trainer: Wayne Catalano
Jockey: Channing Hill
Owner: Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum
Beyer Speed Figure: 96

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UNCONTESTED was tabbed as “worth following” after the Kentucky Jockey Club, in which he finished fourth after starting from post 12 going two turns in only his second start following a debut win sprinting. In the Smarty Jones, his third start and first as a 3-year-old, he cut back to a mile, got a sloppy, sealed track he seemed to adore, and found a fairly paceless field he could dominate, all of which combined for him to show his best form. His Beyer Speed Figure is the second-best fig earned by the winner of any Kentucky Derby prep to date. Only Classic Empire’s 102 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is better.

I think this is a very talented horse, but he had ideal conditions in the Smarty Jones. The competition will be far tougher moving deeper into the prep season at Oaklawn, in races like the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, in which he’ll have to carry his speed beyond the short-porch mile at Oaklawn. But he’s lightly raced and has a terrific trainer in his corner. After only three starts, he’s shown enough to put him on anyone’s short list of top Derby prospects.

In the Smarty Jones, Uncontested sped to the front and eagerly set quick fractions, got a welcome breather from Hill on the far turn, then was asked aggressively in upper stretch and kicked clear while appearing to drift out slightly nearing the wire.

PETROV, who was second, used his inside draw to save ground into the first turn, advanced inside rivals to move into second down the backstretch, was asked with urgency three furlongs out to go after Uncontested, got within a couple lengths three-sixteenths out, but lost ground through the lane. This was his third start, first around two turns, and he was in the unenviable position of having to chase a loose leader.

ROWDY THE WARRIOR, who was third, was outrun into the first turn and was in front of only CU RAHY around the first turn. He saved ground down the backstretch, was angled off the rail on the far turn to try and rally, and finished well enough while never a threat to the top two.

WARRIOR’S CLUB, who was fourth, raced between horses while in the two path around the first turn, lost ground early on the backstretch, was taken to the three path entering the far turn, and made a mild rally to get up to third three furlongs out, but could not sustain his bid and tired in the final furlong. This was his eighth start, but first on an off track.

Cu Rahy, who was fifth, had no early speed and was last early, continued to be outrun down the backstretch, made a mild rally on the far turn while passing tired rivals, and went evenly thereafter.

UNBRIDLED EAGLE, who was sixth, raced three paths wide in sixth around the first turn, was asked aggressively three furlongs out, but never got involved.

ROMEO O ROMEO, who was seventh, took up a stalking position just outside Uncontested around the first turn, checked slightly midway down the backstretch while beginning to be outrun, and was done three furlongs from the wire. Both his dirt races, both going two turns, have been quite poor. He seems to prefer synthetic, and likely prefers to sprint, too 

LOVE THAT LUTE, who finished last of eight, was three paths wide around the first turn while just outside Romeo O Romeo, then started to fade badly beginning three furlongs out.