So the southwest road to the Arkansas Derby, a race that has had much success in Louisville on May’s first Saturday, starts today with the opening of Oaklawn Park and the Smarty Jones Stakes, a non-graded three-year-old event but one that sets the stage going forward.
It appears that all seven entrants are thinking about bigger things in the future as none will race on the diuretic Lasix, the condition that no Derby qualifying points can be earned if money finishers use the performance enhancer.
The early line favorites are deserving of their status. Cowan (9-5) has the most experience in this group and was a good second in Remington Park’s Springboard Mile behind a colt named Senor Buscador whose 5-3/4 lengths victory must be seen to be believed.
Old schoolers should be thinking Silky Sullivan here. Steve Asmussen taps first call rider Ricardo Santa Jr. for the assignment. He’s working brilliantly.
Another colt breaking watches in the morning is a Brad Cox trainee named Caddo Road (5-2), a scopey Hard Spun colt partnered by Cox’s #1, Florent Geroux, who is staying close to the colt and the barn, having shifted his tack from his traditional winter base in New Orleans.
All he’s done was break his maiden going a mile at Churchill Downs in 1.35.20, winning off by 9-1/2 lengths while being taken in hand by Geroux inside the final sixteenth.
Rather than choose between the favorites, we’re going in another direction entirely. We bet on a colt named Big Thorn to upset the Mucho Macho Man on JAN 2 and I spent the first half mile of the race asking Paco Lopez “what are you doing?”
Breaking from the outside slip in a field of 10, Lopez placed him between horses in the first quarter mile and stayed there, grabbing him twice in the run down the backside that found him uncomfortably in fifth.
After finally getting him outside in the clear, he moved into the hottest part of the pace on the far turn while wide, completing blowing the turn, a move that carried him seven wide. After that he flattened out, justifiably.
Well here we are, three weeks later, and Big Thorn (9-2) has shipped in from South Florida with a new rider, David Cabrera, and a new trainer, none other than Steve Asmussen, who is 31% successful when Cabrera rides. We have a hunch, and we’re betting a small bunch.
We’re taking Big Thorn to win at early line odds, hopefully greater, and key-boxing exactas with the two favorites; problem solved. Now the pressure’s on Big Thorn.