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Oaklawn offers tasty Derby preps

by Bob Wisener | September 19, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.
Victory Formation wins the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 at Oaklawn. - Photo courtesy of Coady Photography

Oaklawn's first stop on the road to the 2024 Kentucky Derby again falls on the birthday of North American-bred horses.

Twenty years after its namesake earned a $5 million bonus from the track for a three-race sweep in its centennial racing season, the $200,000 Smarty Jones Jan. 1 marks the first graded Derby prep of 2024. Three other Oaklawn races offer qualifying points for Derby 150 on May 4 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

The Smarty Jones, at 1 1/6 miles, doles out points on a 10-5-3-2-1 basis, the race last Jan. 1 won by the Brad Cox-trained Victory Formation, owned by Arkansan Frank Fletcher. The $800,000 Southwest Jan. 27 bumps the points output to a 20-10-6-4-2 distribution. Essential Quality paired 2021 victories in the Southwest and Belmont. Arabian Knight extended trainer Baffert's success in local Derby preps with a Southwest victory in January.

Oaklawn offers points on a 50-25-15-10-5 split in the Grade 2 $1.25 million Rebel Feb. 24, one of three Oaklawn races Smarty Jones captured in 2004. The Keith Desormeaux-trained Confidence Game won the mile-and-sixteenth Rebel in a roughly run March race and did not return for the Arkansas Derby.

The Arkansas Derby has its first March running on the 30th day of the month, awarding 100 points to the winner and 10 for fifth place. The nine-furlong race is Grade 1 with the $1.5 million purse the largest for a '24 Derby prep other than the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November at Santa Anita Park in Southern California.

Cox has won the Arkansas Derby the last two years with Cyberknife (2022) and Angel of Empire. Cyberknife later took the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

The 66-day Oaklawn season runs Dec. 8 through May 4, 2024.

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