Runner-up to highly regarded stablemate Mor Spirit in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) last time out, Toews on Ice ships in to Oaklawn Park for Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones S. The Bob Baffert trainee rates as the 9-5 favorite on the morning line for the one-mile test, the opening leg of the track’s 3-year-old series culminating in the April 16 Arkansas Derby (G1).

Interestingly, Toews on Ice’s sire, Archarcharch, competed in all four of Oaklawn’s stakes on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) in 2011. Fourth in the Smarty Jones, he bounced back to take the Southwest (G3), finished third in the Rebel (G2), and won the Arkansas Derby.

Toews on Ice is from the first crop of Archarcharch, and he’s accomplished more at this point in his career than his sire had. He broke his maiden by 7 1/2 lengths in the Barretts Juvenile (restricted to horses who were offered at a Barretts Sale) at Los Alamitos, dominated the Speakeasy at Santa Anita, and showed heart to make it three in a row in the November 14 Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar. All of those efforts came in sprints.

Stretching out to two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity December 19, Toews on Ice argued the pace throughout before settling for second to the late-running Mor Spirit. It was a long way back to third. That experience will stand him in good stead here, and the slight cutback to a flat mile may help. Mor Spirit has already been flattered this weekend by Mo Tom’s victory in the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds, and Toews on Ice can keep boosting the form.

Aside from his personal credentials, Toews on Ice must also be respected in light of Baffert’s terrific record over the years at Oaklawn. Last year, the Hall of Famer dispatched eventual Triple Crown champion American Pharoah to conquer the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. This is the first time, however, he’s sent a Derby hopeful to Arkansas so early.

If you’re probing for reasons to take on the favorite, Toews on Ice totes the top weight of 122 pounds, and his inside draw (post 2) could force Martin Garcia’s hand early. He could get embroiled in a speed duel with Luna de Loco and Gordy Florida (drawn either side of him), and Shogood also figures to be winging it to cut across from post 11. Nevertheless, Toews on Ice has come out on top in wicked duels before, and he just looks faster than everyone else. Well clear of his rivals both in BRIS Prime Power and Class ratings, he’s eligible to prove his superiority.

Only two others are stakes winners – Discreetness and Shogood – and both had been well beaten by the aforementioned Mo Tom in the November 1 Street Sense at Churchill Downs. Discreetness, who closed mildly for fourth that day, came back to upset the December 13 Springboard Mile at 9-1. He just got up in the last stride, after a pace meltdown in the slop, suggesting that he’ll be happy with the amount of speed signed on here. Discreetness has the same trainer/jockey combination as Archarcharch – Jinks Fires and Jon Court. In contrast, Shogood has more questions to answer. The front-running winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) on the Polytrack gave way abruptly when switching to dirt in the Street Sense, and will face at least as much pace pressure on Monday.

The Smarty Jones marks the stakes debut of a few promising types. Pin Oak Stud’s homebred Synchrony is a son of Tapit and the near-millionaire mare Brownie Points. The Donnie Von Hemel trainee scored a Keeneland maiden win and followed up in a Churchill allowance, edging Uncle Walter, who just finished third in the Lecomte. Synchrony steps up in distance for the first time, but should prosper over the added ground. Calumet Farm’s homebred Luna de Loco won his debut sprinting at Aqueduct for Steve Asmussen, and the Malibu Moon colt is another who figures to handle the stretch-out. Gray Sky and Black Ops exit maiden wins on Churchill’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” card November 28. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Gray Sky is a Tapit half-brother to Grade 1 winner Dearest Trickski, while Black Ops, a well-bred gelding by Hard Spun, hails from the Rodney Richards barn.

Knights Key would have been intriguing on the class hike as well, but he drew the far outside post 14, and trainer Steve Hobby has withdrawn him in favor of a softer spot. Ron Moquett did the same with his Smarty Jones entrant Whitmore, who instead ran in a January 16 allowance at Oaklawn and won handily. According to the Oaklawn press office, a couple of others are likely to scratch as well.

Rounding out the field are Springboard Mile fourth Cutacorner; Force It, who faded to 12th in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2); Gordy Florida, two-for-two in sprints at Remington; Churchill maiden claiming winner Charming Deputy; and Turfway Park maiden winner Back Togetheragain.

With a scheduled post time of 5:38 p.m. (EST), the Smarty Jones offers a total of 17 points toward the Kentucky Derby, on a 10-4-2-1 sliding scale from first to fourth.

Toews on Ice photo courtesy of Benoit.