On Friday, Oaklawn Park kicks off its racing season and series of Kentucky Derby (G1) preps. The opening day feature, the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, serves as a stepping stone to the Feb. 15 Southwest (G3), Mar. 13 Rebel (G2), and finally the Apr. 10 Arkansas Derby (G1).
The one-mile Smarty Jones marks the stakes debut of the Brad Cox-trained Caddo River, a flashy maiden winner when last seen at Churchill Downs Nov. 15. The Hard Spun colt dominated the one-turn mile in front-running fashion by 9 1/2 lengths, and now tackles the same distance around two turns. A homebred for the Shortleaf Stable of prominent Arkansan John Ed Anthony, Caddo River had finished second in a pair of key maidens at Saratoga and Belmont Park before his breakthrough. Caddo River is drawn in the outside post 7 with a returning Florent Geroux.
If Caddo River brings the potential, Cowan sets the standard on form. The Steve Asmussen pupil has been competing in stakes ever since his debut win at Churchill last May, compiling runner-up efforts in his last three. Finishing fast in both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) and Indian Summer at Keeneland, Cowan reverted to dirt when a distant second to Senor Buscador in the Dec. 18 Springboard Mile at Remington.
Asmussen also sends out a recent arrival to his barn in Big Thorn, a Florida homebred for Arkansans Alex and JoAnn Lieblong. Previously based in the Sunshine State, the son of past Lieblong star The Big Beast romped over state-breds in the off-the-turf Juvenile “Turf” S. at Gulfstream Park West. Big Thorn comes off a well-beaten sixth, however, in the Jan. 2 Mucho Macho Man versus open company at a mile.