A busy Road to the Kentucky Derby prep season awaits at Oaklawn Park! The Arkansas track will host four Kentucky Derby qualifiers between January and April, beginning with the $150,000 Smarty Jones S. on Friday. The one-mile fixture will award 17 qualification points to the top four finishers, split on a 10-4-2-1 basis.

Martini Blu
Total 1 start(s)
Wins:
1
Place:
0
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(83) when winning his debut at Hawthorne.
Total Earnings:
$13,200
Owner:
Novogratz Racing Stables
Breeder:
Connie Snyder and Richard Snyder
Trainer:
McLean Robertson
Jockey:
Francisco Arrieta
Sire:
Maclean's Music
Dam:
Athena Star
Color:
Dark bay/brown

On paper. Martini Blu's first start—a victory racing one mile and 70 yards at Hawthorne—looks solid. The son of Maclean's Music tracked the pace while saving ground, then shifted out and pulled clear to score by 5 1/4 lengths. But Martini Blu raced a bit greenly down the homestretch, drifting toward the inner rail, and he wasn't facing the toughest competition. The Smarty Jones promises to be a stiffer test of his talents.

Lawlessness
Total 3 start(s)
Wins:
1
Place:
0
Show:
2
Top Speed Rating:
(73) when breaking his maiden at Hawthorne.
Total Earnings:
$19,064
Owner:
Muddy Waters Stables
Breeder:
RGP Ocala Holdings
Trainer:
Ingrid Mason
Jockey:
David Cohen
Sire:
Congrats
Dam:
Ruby Crown
Color:
Dark bay/brown

Sold for just $14,000 as a 2-year-old, Lawlessness hasn't missed the trifecta in three starts on the Illinois circuit, most notably breaking his maiden sprinting 6 furlongs at Hawthorne. He'll add blinkers for the Smarty Jones, which could potentially sharpen his focus and speed, but his career-best 73 Brisnet Speed rating suggests Lawlessness may find the competition at Oaklawn to be a bit too fierce.

Cowan
Total 6 start(s)
Wins:
1
Place:
3
Show:
1
Top Speed Rating:
(85) when finishing second in the Indian Summer S.
Total Earnings:
$335,877
Owner:
William L. Heiligbrodt, Corinne Heiligbrodt, Madaket Stables, and Spendthrift Farm
Breeder:
Hill 'n' Dale Equine Holdings
Trainer:
Steve Asmussen
Jockey:
Ricardo Santana
Sire:
Kantharos
Dam:
Tempers Flair
Color:
Chestnut

A trifecta finisher in five of his six starts for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Cowan has already made an impact on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, recording a runner-up effort in the Remington Springboard Mile S. You can argue a mile might be a little longer than Cowan wants to run—after all, he was weakening at the finish of the Springboard Mile, and his best effort to date came when finishing second in the 5 1/2-furlong Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2). But Cowan's Brisnet Speed ratings are strong, and from a class perspective, he's an obvious contender for victory.

Big Thorn
Total 4 start(s)
Wins:
2
Place:
1
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(93) when winning the Juvenile Turf S. at Gulfstream Park West.
Total Earnings:
$71,556
Owner:
Alex and JoAnn Lieblong
Breeder:
Alex Lieblong and JoAnn Lieblong
Trainer:
Steve Asmussen
Jockey:
David Cabrera
Sire:
The Big Beast
Dam:
Save a Rose
Color:
Bay

Big Thorn showed plenty of promise in his first three starts sprinting, recording a couple of blowout victories against Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park West. A 4 1/2-length triumph in the Juvenile Turf S. (transferred to the main track) hinted Big Thorn might be something special, but he failed to fire when stepping up to a mile against tougher company in the Mucho Macho Man S., weakening to finish a distant sixth. A son of top sprinter The Big Beast, Big Thorn has since been transferred to the barn of Steve Asmussen, but sticking to the same distance and class level for the Smarty Jones could make it difficult for Big Thorn to challenge.

Hardly Swayed
Total 4 start(s)
Wins:
2
Place:
0
Show:
1
Top Speed Rating:
(79) when winning a Mahoning Valley allowance race.
Total Earnings:
$27,030
Owner:
Arnaldo Monge
Breeder:
Debby M. Oxley
Trainer:
Rey Hernandez
Jockey:
Martin Garcia
Sire:
Bernardini
Dam:
I Like to Whim
Color:
Dark bay/brown

A son of Preakness (G1) winner Bernardini out of a mare by stamina influence Medaglia d'Oro, Hardly Swayed has the pedigree to handle a mile just fine. But the dark bay colt has yet to run farther than 6 furlongs, the distance over which he's scored easy maiden and allowance victories at Mahoning Valley. Hardly Swayed's promising pedigree aside, stepping up to a mile against stakes company is a big ask, and his career-best 79 Brisnet Speed rating suggests he'll need a step forward to factor at Oaklawn.

Moonlite Strike
Total 3 start(s)
Wins:
2
Place:
0
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(93) when breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park West.
Total Earnings:
$47,400
Owner:
Sonata Stable
Breeder:
Brushy Hill
Trainer:
Saffie Joseph
Jockey:
Joe Talamo
Sire:
Liam's Map
Dam:
Twinkling
Color:
Bay

Although Moonlite Strike could only finish fourth in his debut, the son of Liam's Map has since come back to record back-to-back victories against quality competition on the Florida circuit. On Dec. 10, Moonlite Strike used his excellent early speed to win a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park, though he was weakening through the final furlong and just barely held on to win by a head. The question now is whether Moonlite Strike can step up his game against stakes competition—facing a couple of other front-runner types could test the limits of his stamina.

Caddo River
Total 3 start(s)
Wins:
1
Place:
2
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(94) when breaking his maiden by 9 1/2 lengths.
Total Earnings:
$76,092
Owner:
Shortleaf Stable
Breeder:
Shortleaf Stable
Trainer:
Brad Cox
Jockey:
Florent Geroux
Sire:
Hard Spun
Dam:
Pangburn
Color:
Dark bay/brown

A son of Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Hard Spun out of the stakes-winning mare Pangburn, Caddo River has shown a lot of speed and potential for high-percentage trainer Brad Cox. After finishing second in his first two starts sprinting on the New York circuit, Caddo River stepped up to a mile at Churchill Downs and trounced a field of maidens by 9 1/2 lengths, earning a sharp 94 Brisnet Speed rating. The fact Caddo River was able to win impressively after setting fast fractions of :22.38, :44.59, and 1:09.48 is significant and a sign that he'll be very difficult to catch in the Smarty Jones.