Wide trips did in several contenders in Monday's $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, but Alex and Joann Lieblong's Junebugred largely avoided that fate with a well-executed ride by Joe Bravo. Tracking in the second tier while saving ground most of the way, the Corinthian colt faced a wall of horses approaching the stretch. Bravo saw the rail open up turning for home, deftly guided his mount to the inside and surged late while holding off a belated charge from 17-1 chance Reckless Jerry. The winning margin was a neck with one mile completed in a time of 1:38 2/5 over a fast track. Junebugred returned $14.80, $7 and $4.60 as the 6-1 third choice in a field of 12 three-year-olds.
Reckless Jerry arguably ran the best race in defeat, racing five wide much of the way yet still having plenty of energy to make things close despite the short stretch run. He was a length clear ahead of the the filly On Fire Baby, the 6-5 favorite who endured a four-wide journey throughout. She was a half-length clear of 15-1 chance Jake Mo, who raced three-wide the whole way. Fifth was the pacesetter Laurie's Rocket, who set splits of :23 3/5, :48 1/5 and 1:12 3/5.
Completing the order of finish was 2-1 second choice Optimizer, Copus, Prince Cheval, King Coral, No Spin, Fastestwhogetspaid and Hard Nosed.
Junebugred is trained by Steve Hobby, who along with David Fawkes helped get Junebugred to the races last fall. Fawkes was the trainer of record for the colt's two outings as a juvenile. A distant third in his Monmouth Park debut as the 6-5 favorite on October 16, Junebugred rebounded against better company at Aqueduct on November 26 when taking a one-mile maiden special weight by a length. Transferred to the Hobby's Oaklawn barn shortly thereafter, Junebugred will advance to his next start with career earnings of $95,400.
"His first time out he hadn't had any dirt in his face and he got to hopping and jumping around like a lot of first-time starters do," Hobby said. "We went and sent him to David in New York to give him a shot on the track up there."
Junebugred was bred in Kentucky by Gainesway Thoroughbreds and was a $20,000 Keeneland September yearling. He was produced by the Grade 2-placed Dixie Melody, a daughter of Dixieland Band, which makes the Smarty Jones winner a half-brother to the multiple stakes-winning Joe Six Pack. This female family is responsible for Grade 1 winner Cacoethes, Fabulous Notion, Subordination, and Careless Jewel, as well as champion turf mare Fiji.