It is opening day Friday for Oaklawn Park, and it’s also time for the first of four Kentucky Derby prep races over the track this meet.
The Smarty Jones will be the 8th race on the opening day Oaklawn card and is set for 2:11 p.m. PDT post time.
Seven horses will go to post for the one mile affair over the dirt.
The morning line favorite is Cowan (9/5). The Steve Asmussen runner will draw the services of Ricardo Santana Jr. The horse has only one win – that coming in his debut at the straight maiden level.
In six career starts, he has run second three times, third once, and has a fifth, that coming in his second start. In his last start he was second around two turns at Remington Park, his first try at the one mile distance.
Cowan earned an 84 Beyer in the race and has come back to turn in a pair of good works at Oaklawn, earning a bullet work at 5 furlongs on January 12. He seems to prefer sitting back and firing late.
Brad Cox trains the second choice – Caddo River (5/2). Three starts at three different tracks – this race will make it four different starts – have produced a win and two seconds.
Florent Geroux was up in the last start, a 9-plus length maiden win at Churchill Downs in mid-November. The maiden score was a wire job where he easily pulled away in the lane under the guidance of Geroux.
Since the race he has some with a series of strong drills over the Oaklawn surface, including a bullet work on January 9.
Moonlite Strike (4-1) will be piloted by Joe Talamo for trainer Saffie Joseph. The horse has won two straight races, one a maiden score followed by an optional claimer. Favored in all three starts, it is the first time Talamo will be up for another horse that figures to be a front-runner.
Big Thorn (9/2) is out of the Asmussen barn and has David Cabrera up for the first time. He has two wins in four starts but is coming off a sixth in the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream on January 2.
He appears to sit mid-pack before getting first run on the speed. He will get a pace to run at but will need a big step up here.
Martini Blu (6/1) runs for McLean Robertson and will have Francisco Arrieta up. The horse has one start – an easy win in a straight maiden at Hawthorne. He has work to do here, but the start did come over two turns giving him experience.
Lawlessness (12/1) runs for Ingrid Mason and has David Cohen signed up for the ride. Good reason for the odds as the horse has not run since late October when he was third in an optional claimer at Hawthorne.
Finally, Hardly Swayed (12-1) rounds out the field. Ray Hernandez trains and Martin Garcia rides here. There has two straight wins in the resume but those came in a maiden, followed by an allowance race at Mahoning Valley and he has yet to see this quality.
So, what happens?
There will be pace with Caddo River, Moonlite Strike, Hardly Swayed, and possibly Martini Blu, with the question being will it be enough to set up the close of Cowan?
Cowan will be there at the end and will be flying late but to me the key will be if Caddo River is out front or takes back and runs second or third. If he does, he will have first run in the lane and that may be enough.
The truth is no horse in here makes a big splash on my Derby radar at this point but at the end of the day just maybe one will!
By Dennis Miller