Oaklawn will open its 117th season Friday with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, which drew a field of seven, highlighting the nine-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m.
The one-mile Smarty Jones carries 17 total points toward eligibility in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and is the first of four races in Oaklawn’s rich series that culminates April 10 with the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).
Post positions for the Smarty Jones from the rail out: Martini Blu (trainer Mac Robertson/jockey Francisco Arrieta); Lawlessness (Ingrid Mason/David Cohen); Cowan (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana Jr.), Big Thorn (Asmussen/David Cabrera); Hardly Swayed (Rey Hernandez/Martin Garcia); Moonlight Strike (Saffie Joseph/Joe Talamo), and Caddo River (Brad Cox/Florent Geroux).
While morning line odds won’t be released until later this week, Caddo River and Cowan are expected to vie for favoritism. Caddo River exits a powerful front-running maiden special weights victory Nov. 15 at Churchill Downs. Cowan finished a fast-closing second in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) on Nov. 6 at Keeneland and completed his 2-year-old campaign with a runner-up finish in the $200,000 Springboard Mile on Dec. 18 at Remington Park.
Asmussen won last year’s Smarty Jones with Gold Street.
The Amoss Army
There’s a Derby winner already on the grounds at Oaklawn. Dean Martini, who captured the $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3) for 3-year-olds last June at Thistledown, is among 16 horses for Tom Amoss, the Fair Grounds-based trainer who has a division at Oaklawn for the second consecutive year.
Amoss, who has 25 stalls, said that his Oaklawn division will again be under the direction of assistant Katy Allen during the 2021 meet that is scheduled to begin Jan. 22. Amoss, an iconic figure at Fair Grounds, the trainer’s hometown track, set Oaklawn career highs for starts (81), victories (14), stakes victories (three) and purse earnings ($705,412) last year when he had a division in Hot Springs for the first time since 2006. He won 10 races in 2006 and was Oaklawn’s co-sixth-leading trainer last year.
Dean Martini failed to break his maiden in two starts last year at Oaklawn before Amoss claimed the Cairo Prince gelding for $50,000 out of a maiden victory May 17 at Churchill Downs. Dean Martini won the Ohio Derby two starts later.
Although the Ohio Derby was 1 1/8 miles, Amoss said he believes Dean Martini is more effective in shorter races, adding the gelding could make his 4-year-old debut in an early season allowance race.
Two of the trainer’s stakes victories last year at Oaklawn were with Long Weekend – $90,000 Gazebo and $100,000 Bachelor, both for 3-year-old sprinters. Unraced since late July, Long Weekend is a “couple of weeks away from getting started,” Amoss said, and could be seen late in the Oaklawn meeting.
Amoss said his Grade 1-winning sprinter No Parole will run at the meet, although when and in what type of race is unknown. No Parole was an allowance winner last April at Oaklawn before capturing the $250,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in his next start. The Louisiana-bred son of Violence recorded a five-furlong bullet workout (0:58.80) Jan. 9 at Fair Grounds in advance of his 4-year-old debut.
Amoss said he had a 20-horse rotation between Oaklawn and Fair Grounds last year, with half occupying stalls in Hot Springs. He pointed to Oaklawn’s lucrative purse structure, projected around $600,000 daily, as a major hook for his heavier presence in 2021. Amoss recorded the first of his 73 career victories to date at Oaklawn in 1989. He has 11 stakes victories, highlighted by the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares in 2000 with Heritage of Gold. The trainer’s signature 2020 Oaklawn victory was with Serengeti Empress in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares. The now-retired Serengeti Empress is scheduled to be bred this year to super sire Into Mischief.
Amoss said he has 50 horses at Fair Grounds.
Post positions were drawn Saturday for the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses and the $150,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares. Both mile races are Jan. 23.
The Oaklawn racing department listed six probables last Friday morning for the Fifth Season: Combatant for trainer John Sadler, Full Authority (Jinks Fires), Hunka Burning Love (Karl Broberg), Night Ops (Brad Cox), Pioneer Spirit (Robertino Diodoro) and Silver Slate (Steve Asmussen).
Hunka Burning Love has won eight times since Broberg claimed the gelding for $32,000 last April at Oaklawn, including the $75,000 Lone Star Mile in June at Lone Star Park and the $60,000 Jeffrey A. Hawk Memorial Stakes on Dec. 18 at Remington Park in his last start. Night Ops won the $350,000 Essex Handicap last year at Oaklawn. Pioneer Spirit captured the second division of last year’s Fifth Season. Silver State finished third in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) last year at Fair Grounds and closed his 2020 campaign with two sharp allowance victories in Kentucky.
Probables Friday morning for the Pippin, according to the Oaklawn racing department: Blessed Again (John Henry Prather Jr.), Goodbye Earl (David Vance), Graysonsmacho Gal (John Ortiz), His Glory (Joe Sharp), Istan Council (Larry Jones), O Seraphina (Sharp), Our Super Freak, (Cherie DeVaux), Vault (Cox) and Wicked Whisper (Asmussen).
Our Super Freak finished second in the $263,000 Molly Pitcher Stakes (G3) last July Monmouth Park. Vault ran sixth in the Molly Pitcher in her last start. Wicked Whisper was a Grade 1 winner at 2.
Riding or fighting? It’s still a career tug-of-war for Chel-c Bailey.
Bailey, who notched her first career riding victory last year at Oaklawn, said she will not apply for a jockey’s license until the middle or end of the 2021 Oaklawn meet (Jan. 22-May 1) and is considering resurrecting her unbeaten MMA career or having her first professional boxing match.
Bailey, a 20-something who grew up near Seattle, is an exercise rider at Oaklawn for trainer Brad Cox after riding 94 races as a 10-pound apprentice last year. Owing to uncertainty over the racing calendar nationally because of COVID-19, Bailey planned to halt her riding career after last year’s Oaklawn meet ended in early May and gallop horses at Churchill Downs, but she had 19 more mounts, mostly last fall in Kentucky. Bailey has been working for Cox since early December.
Because she won’t be riding the afternoon, Bailey said she’s starting to integrate gym work that is geared toward fighting again or boxing. A former high school and collegiate wrestler, Bailey is 3-0-0 in her MMA career. Her last fight was in early 2018.
Bailey began galloping horses for trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs in the fall of 2017, rode her first race in the fall of 2019 and her first winner Feb. 28, 2020, aboard Burtnjoe. She rode two more winners last year at Oaklawn and received another following a disqualification of a horse from a race last March because of a medication violation. The Oaklawn stewards’ ruling on the disqualification was issued Aug. 31.
What would be her fifth career victory, and first outside Arkansas, came aboard Parking Ticket Oct. 8 at Keeneland. Bailey won the starter/optional claiming sprint by a nose.
Bailey worked as an exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen last spring at Oaklawn, then in Kentucky for trainers Brendan Walsh and Michelle Lovell. Bailey said one of her morning partners for Lovell was Just Might, who ran in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
Bailey is married to David Kembrey, an exercise rider at Oaklawn for trainer Mike Puhich.
The Smarty Jones is the first of 33 scheduled stakes races during the 57-day meeting that ends May 1. … Piece of My Heart, winner of the inaugural $80,000 Gardenia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies last year at Oaklawn, recorded her third local breeze of the season Wednesday for trainer Mac Robertson, covering a half-mile in :49.60 over a fast track. Piece of My Heart hasn’t started since finishing seventh in the $212,000 Monmouth Oaks (G3) on Aug. 1 at Monmouth Park. … Trainer Michael Puhich, who has a string at Oaklawn for the second consecutive year, has 494 career victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.