HOT SPRINGS -- Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort will offer a potential for the largest and toughest-ever Smarty Jones Stakes field today.
Post time for the Smarty Jones, the ninth of 10 races on the New Year's Day card, is scheduled for 4:13 p.m.
Fourteen horses are entered to start their 3-year-old campaign in the $250,000 1-mile Smarty Jones, the first of four of Oaklawn's Kentucky Derby prep races. There are 17 Derby qualifying points available, with 10, 4, 2, and 1 earned by the first four finishers.
No more than 12 horses have started a Smarty Jones since the race started in 2008.
"Any time they hang up 250,000, they are never easy, right?" said Chris Hartman, the racetrack's 2016 training champion who has entered James Rogers' and Michael Robinson's Kavod, winner of Oaklawn's 6-furlong Advent Stakes for 2-year-old horses on Dec. 3. "It's always difficult. There's nothing easy in this game, but I definitely think it's tougher than previous Smarty Joneses, or at least it appears that way. The proof will be in the pudding at a later date. These are just freshly-turned 3-year-olds. These could go kablooie. It could be easy, but it appears it has some teeth to it."
Home Brew, a son of Street Sense and maternal grandson of Tapit trained by 2020 Eclipse Award national training champion Brad Cox is the morning-line favorite at 3-1.
"He's coming into the race in good form," said Home Brew's jockey Florent Geroux. "He has a win over the track at the distance, so I think he belongs in the race."
Home Brew won at 1 mile against five others in an $80,000 optional-claiming race at Oaklawn on Dec. 4. Geroux knows nothing will come easy in the Smarty Jones.
"The thing is, there are so many horses," Geroux said. "Sometimes you can have the best horse, but the other horses can get in your way. I think we have a good horse, and if he shows good early speed like the last time, he can get out of trouble right from the beginning."
Cox also trains 8-1 entrant Vivar, who finished sixth among 11 in Churchill Downs' Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, a 17-point Derby qualifier run on Nov. 27.
"I think they're both horses that probably want a little bit more than a mile, " Cox said, "but given they've already won the first-level allowance, there's really not a lot of options out there, and this is probably going to give us a pretty good line on if they're going to be horses that are going to compete in the 3-year-old stakes division here at Oaklawn throughout the winter."
National Museum of Racing and Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is one of three trainers to enter two horses in the Smarty Jones, with Cox and Ron Moquett.
Asmussen trains 8-1 morning-line sixth-choice Cariama, who finished fifth of six in the Grade III 1-mile Nashua Stakes at Belmont Park on Nov. 7.
A horse from Moquett's barn has not qualified for the Kentucky Derby since sprint champion Whitmore made the Derby has last two-turn start in 2016. Moquett now has three Derby hopefuls in his Oaklawn barn, recently named after Whitmore, including Smarty Jones entrants Bureau and Ruggs, 12-1 and 10-1 choices on the morning line, respectively.
"I think we belong in the race," Moquett said. "We're going to have to get a good trip. This race is going to be determined by who has the best trip. It's not necessarily who is the most talented. We believe we have plenty of talent, but whoever has the best trip is going to win the race."
Oaklawn's Derby qualifying races also included the Grade III Southwest and the Grade II Rebel Stakes, each at 1 and 1/16th miles and the Grade I 1 and 1/8th-mile Arkansas Derby, scheduled respectively for Jan. 29, Feb. 26, and April 2.
John Ortiz trains and Reylu Gutierrez is the listed to ride 4-1 second-choice Barber Road, a son of Race Day owned by WSS Racing.
Barber Road won against six other $30,000 maiden claimers at Keeneland on Oct. 14 and finished second in a field of six in the $200,000 Lively Shively Stakes for 2-year-old horses at Churchill on Nov. 27.
Barber Road cost his owners $15,000.
"He's been a project that has definitely turned out to be a good investment," Ortiz said.
Long time thoroughbred owner Willis Horton, 81 of Marshall, jockey Jon Court, and trainer Dallas Stewart will look for their second stakes win of the 2021-22 season with Ben Diesel, a son of Will Take Charge and maternal grandson of Giant's Causeway. Court rode Ben Diesel to a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
"I'm confident," Court, 61, said. "I like the horse, the way he's training up to it. The connections, the trainer and the owner, are without a doubt doing a good job. We've had success in the past and we would like to continue it, but the Smarty Jones is going to be competitive, without a doubt."