Whichever candidate wins Saturday’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park will get themselves a dress rehearsal for the Kentucky Derby and its cavalry-charge-sized field. Because, barring any scratches, the Smarty Jones will send out the largest field in event history with 14 horses.

Home Brew-Smarty Jones
Home Brew finds himself the favorite in a deep, record-sized Smarty Jones field. The mile-race is Oaklawn Park’s first of four Kentucky Derby preps. (Image: Coady Photography)

The one-mile Smarty Jones, the first of four Oaklawn Derby preps, moved to New Year’s Day from its previous late January slot. That came about after Oaklawn revamped its schedule, opening in early December rather than in January.

Throw in a purse bump from $150,000 to $250,000 — a healthy purse for a Listed Stakes race — and it’s easy to understand the record 98 nominations and 14-horse field.

“Not that the Smarty Jones is new, the placement of the Smarty Jones is new,” Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope told Oaklawn’s Robert Yates. “The fact that (Oaklawn President) Louis (Cella) wanted to put more money in, all those things tremendously helped the race.”

Smarty Jones tests Oaklawn’s tote system

The 14-horse field maxes out Oaklawn’s totalisator system, which can handle 14 entries. That came after a 2017 upgrade to Oaklawn’s betting system.

As for the Smarty Jones field, stakes, and history itself, it’s a wait-and-see Derby prep. It offers 10-4-2-1 Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers, provided none of them are on the anti-bleeding medication, Lasix. No horse in the field is on Lasix for Saturday’s race.

Big field aside, it’s a wait-and-see prep because no Derby winner has ever come from the Smarty Jones, which dates to 2008. Last year’s winner, Caddo River, bowed out of the Derby after finishing second to Super Stock in the Arkansas Derby. The last Derby entrant out of the Smarty Jones was Long Range Toddy in 2019, who finished 16th in the Derby.

Will Take Charge took charge

The last Triple Crown notable was 2013 Smarty Jones winner Will Take Charge, who finished eighth in the Derby, seventh in the Preakness, and 10th in the Belmont. He did, however, finish second to Mucho Macho Man in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

So who out of this crowded field bears watching? Start with 3/1 morning-line favorite Home Brew. It makes all kinds of sense to start here because Home Brew is one of two Brad Cox entries in the field. And Cox is tearing Oaklawn up in the early going, winning races at a 39% clip.

Favorite status and Cox aside, it makes sense to start with Home Brew because he’s the son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense. And it makes sense because Home Brew comes in off a solid victory in a one-mile Oaklawn optional claimer on Dec. 4.

Home Brew cooks up a good resume

That nearly four-length victory at 2/5 came after a career-best 92 Equibase Speed Figure in a six-furlong allowance at Churchill Downs. Home Brew finished second by less than a length, closing hard on the winner, Blue Kentucky, before running out of race.

Cox’s other entry, Vivar (8/1), comes into the proceedings off a sixth in the Nov, 27 Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. Finishing two places ahead of him in that 1 1/16-mile race was Ben Diesel (5/1), who hopes for a legacy boost. He’s the son of Will Take Charge.

Trainer Steve Asmussen is sending three runners out: All In Sync (8/1), Cairama (8/1), and Cool Papa G. (6/1). All in Sync and Cool Papa G have maiden victories. Cairama finished third in the Advent Stakes at Oaklawn after finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Nashua at Belmont Park. Cool Papa G. finished third in the Nov, 27 Lively Shively Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Lots of familiar faces reunite

Cool Papa G will reacquaint himself with Barber Road (4/1) and Ignitis (15/1), who finished second and sixth, respectively in the Lively Shively. The winner of that race, Tejano Twist, finished a strong second in last weekend’s Gun Runner at Fair Grounds.

Listed Smarty Jones Stakes/Oaklawn Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Dash Attack, 12/1 (David Cohen/Kenny McPeek)
  2. All in Sync, 8/1 (Ricardo Santana Jr./Steve Asmussen)
  3. Home Brew, 3/1 (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox)
  4. Kavod, 5/1 (Francisco Arrieta/Chris Hartman)
  5. Ignitis, 15/1 (Luis Contreras/D. Wayne Lukas)
  6. Bureau, 12/1 (David Cabrera/Ron Moquett)
  7. Ruggs, 10/1 (Julien Leparoux/Ron Moquett)
  8. Vivar, 8/1 (Martin Garcia/Brad Cox)
  9. Don’tcrossthedevil, 10/1 (Lane Luzzi/Phil D’Amato)
  10. Barber Road, 4/1 (Reylu Gutierrez/John Ortiz)
  11. Cairama, 8/1 (Geovanni Franco/Steve Asmussen)
  12. Cool Papa G., 6/1 (Ramon Vazquez/Steve Asmussen)
  13. Immoral, 20/1 (Tiago Pereira/Michael Puhich)
  14. Ben Diesel, 5/1 (Jon Court/Dallas Stewart)

Cairama reacquaints himself with Kavod (4/1) and Ruggs (10/1), who finished first and fourth in the Advent, Oaklawn’s first stakes race of the meet.

Kavod became a trivia answer with that Advent victory, winning Oaklawn’s first 2-year-old stakes event since 1973. That victory came two weeks after he was claimed for $50,000 out of a Churchill Downs sprint. It also made him the only stakes winner in the Smarty Jones field.

All in all, an eclectic field full of wagering opportunities. Just what you’d want out of a Derby prep.