2023 Smarty Jones Stakes Recap

Heavily-backed Victory Formation maintained his unbeaten record with a smooth victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park on New Year’s Day.

A 3-5 favorite after winning at Keeneland and Churchill Downs in his previous starts, Victory Formation was taken straight to the front in the one-mile contest from the outside barrier post by jockey Flavien Prat.

After carving out 23.20, 47.75 and 1:12.36 fractions, the son of first-crop sire Tapwrit had plenty in reserve coming into the stretch and opened up a three-length lead, one he maintained to the line.

The victory for the Brad Cox trainee earned him 10 points on the Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby table, and the excitement of potentially more improvement to come.

Angel of Empire, Cox’s second runner in the race, missed the start but moved forward down the backstretch to a midfield position and fought hard in the stretch to comfortably take second and earn 4 points on the Derby Road. He was three lengths clear of Denington, who added 3 Derby Road points to the 1 he earned when finishing fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November.

The 56-1 outsider Western Ghent battled in the stretch after sitting close to Victory Formation in the running and finished fourth, earning 2 points. The final point went to Steve Asmussen’s Good Magic colt How Did He Do That.

Bred by Gainesway Thoroughbreds, Victory Formation was sold for $100,000 as a weanling and $150,000 as a yearling before being finally knocked down to Spendthrift Farm and Frank Fletcher Racing at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in Training Sale last May for $340,000. He looks a decent prospect.

By Alastair Bull

Smarty Jones Stakes History

Oaklawn Park in Arkansas has been an increasingly productive winter proving ground for top Kentucky Derby contenders, thanks primarily to a rich series of prep races that kicks off each January with the Smarty Jones S. Inaugurated in 2009, the 1-mile Smarty Jones has quickly secured a prominent place on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, offering qualification points on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis to the top five finishers.

During the 2010s, the Smarty Jones produced seven Kentucky Derby starters, impressive considering the race did not officially rank as a Derby qualifier until 2013. While none of the Smarty Jones alumni reached the Churchill Downs winner’s circle, a few of them turned out to be capable stakes performers. Most notably, 2013 Smarty Jones winner Will Take Charge competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown and was eventually voted champion 3-year-old male at the Eclipse Awards.

Going back further, 2009 Smarty Jones winner Flat Out missed the Triple Crown but developed into a classy six-time graded stakes winner, counting two victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) among his notable triumphs. Caleb’s Posse, who prevailed in the 2011 Smarty Jones, likewise skipped the spring classics but achieved national acclaim with his triumph in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

Since 1-mile races at Oaklawn end at the sixteenth pole, the Smarty Jones features an abbreviated homestretch that often plays kindly toward front-running speedsters. Between 2017 and 2020, four straight editions of the Smarty Jones were won in gate-to-wire fashion. Most notable among these winners was Uncontested, whose 1:36.32 final time and 5 14-length margin of victory established records for the Smarty Jones.

By J. Keeler Johnson