2022 Kentucky Derby Preview Series – The Smarty Jones by Eric Solomon

Happy New Year and happy birthday to all the thoroughbred horses! As we start 2022 on the first Saturday in January, our attention turns to the horses that are trying to earn a spot in the starting gate for the 2022 Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. We’re kicking off our coverage at ITM with previews of every North American Derby Points Race, sharing thoughts of how we’d be the race and trying to identify some horses now that might offer some decent value in the Derby Futures Books.

I’ll be previewing some of these Derby Points races this here on the ITM Blog, along with posting some updates and thoughts from time to time on Twitter @EricSolomon718. Feel free to reach out!

Oaklawn Park Saturday 1/1/21: The Smarty Jones (Race 9)

17 Total Derby points (10/4/2/1)


1 – Dash Attack: He broke his maiden on 12/5, winning at this track and distance in his debut. He surged late to win going away, while looking like a horse that could go a little further. He’s trained by Ken McPeek, who has campaigned a Preakness and Belmont winner. He has an advantageous post for his second career start, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move forward. At 12-1 (ML), he offers some of the better value in this race.

2 – All In Sync: He has two strong efforts in a pair of six furlong sprints, breaking his maiden in a full field in the slop at Churchill last time. With his pedigree, I suspect he’ll be better suited for one turn races. I don’t see him as a horse that can make noise on the Derby Trail, but one mile might be within his realm of capabilities, and 8-1 (ML) or better isn’t bad value on this Asmussen trainee.

3 – Home Brew: He is a troubled-trip second place finish away from being undefeated in three starts. He handily beat an allowance field here on 12/4. While I’m not sure about the ability of the five rivals he beat last out, he is bred to improve with added distance. If he can take a decent step forward in his second start at two turns, he could allow the Wests to start dreaming about the first Saturday in May.

4 – Kavod: He’s the only stakes winner in the group, winning the six furlong Advent Stakes here on opening weekend. He’s already started nine times, but his last effort was definitely his best. That was also his first start since being claimed by Chris Hartman. I do think he’s vulnerable at the two turn mile though, and 5-1 (ML) is poor value to me.

5 – Ignitis: He broke his maiden in his 5th career start, beating an average field at best over at  Keeneland . He tried stakes company at Churchill last out and was last of six that day. From a speed figure perspective, he really has not progressed much in six tries, so he’s tough for me to get behind.

6 – Bureau: He took a big step forward off his debut when going the one mile distance last out at Remington. He benefitted from a contested pace battle that day, but he certainly drew off like a horse that has some ability. The runner up came back to win a seven furlong maiden special weight race at Remington last out. He’s not impossible, but I prefer others.

7 – Ruggs: He won at first asking at Remington, but tired late in the Advent Stakes here on opening weekend. He’s sired by Gun Runner, which suggests he may improve at two turns, but his dam was more successful at one turn. His ¾ sibling, He’s In Charge has never gone farther than 7 Furlongs. He’s not for me in this spot.

8 – Vivar: He split the field in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last out, finishing 6th of 11 that day. He’s bred to get two turns, and has gradually improved in each start. He might keep improving, but I don’t think he’s fast enough to win.

9 – Don’tcrossthedevil: He’s undefeated in two starts at Remington, improving dramatically in his second career try. He was privately purchased after that race and now makes his first start at two turns, now running for Phil D’Amato. His local works aren’t spectacular, but he has some more upside than some of the others here. I see him as more of a bottom of the vertical exotics type, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he runs better than that.

10 – Barber Road: The Derby Trail is always more interesting when there’s some blue collar talent taking on the blue bloods. He was purchased for $15K at the Keeneland November Sale in 2019. He broke his maiden with $30K maiden claimers at two turns, then cut back to a sprint when he easily defeated a $30K starter allowance field at Churchill. Two weeks later, he nearly pulled the 9-1 upset over Tejano Twist, running a strong second in the Lively Shively Stakes when sprinting again. That one came back to run a credible second to Epicenter last week in his first try at two turns in the Gun Runner at the Fair Grounds. I’m not sure how high his ceiling is, and 4-1 (ML) feels too short, but his last three starts have been very good.

11 – Cairama: I thought he was a sneaky play in the Advent Stakes last month, while cutting back to a sprint after finishing a dull 5th in the Grade 3 Nashua at Belmont in November. It was not easy to close on that track here that day, so I thought his effort was a little better than it looks on paper. Of the three that Asmussen sends out, he might be best suited for two turns, at least from a pedigree standpoint. He’ll need to work out a trip from this wide draw though.

12 – Cool Papa G: He won at first asking in June but didn’t run again until October at Keeneland, when he finished third in allowance company. He followed up that effort with a decent third in the Lively Shively at Churchill. He’s a closing sprinter that is bred to be better at one turn. He’s drawn a tough post for his first two turn effort. All of these factors makes him one that I’ll be trying to beat.

13 – Immoral: He broke his maiden in a two turn seven furlong contest at Charles Town on debut back in November. He was much the best that day, but I don’t think he beat much that day. I’m not sure what to expect from him, here, making his first start for Michael Pulich.  I’d prefer to see him tackle allowance foes before dipping his toes in stakes company today.

14 – Ben Diesel: He was used hard from an outside post early on in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. The tempo was quick, and he faded to 4th in the final furlong. He did improve from a figure standpoint that day though when he outran his 15-1 odds. He draws post 14, which is definitely a tall order here. Interestingly enough, he’s the shortest price in the field on the current Derby Futures odds, with his price as low as 95-1 at Circa and 125-1 at William Hill. If he can run another credible effort, I’d consider him in his next start if he can get some post relief. However, 5-1 (ML), is a tough price to take today from this post.  

The verdict: Top Picks 1-3-14

This is by far the best betting contest of the trio of Derby Points races being run today. I look at these races through the lens of which bets make the most sense today and who might be worth taking a chance on in a Derby Futures Wager.

In terms of future wagering via your preferred sportsbook, you’ll get the most value on your horse before a race like this. To give you some perspective, you could have laid a future wager on Epicenter at 150-1 back on December 6th. After his impressive win in the Gun Runner Stakes last weekend at the Fair Grounds, his odds went down to 40-1 at Circa at as low as 25-1 at Caesars. Having a strong opinion in a race like this, gives you a bit of an edge in futures wagering. Half the battle with these bets is backing a horse that can get in the gate of the Derby. A win here nets your horse 10 points, which won’t be enough, however, in recent years, 30 points for the most part, has been enough to get into the starting gate on Derby Day.

There are many horses that are stretching out to try to get the two turn mile for the first time. For this race and down the road, I’m leaning toward the horses that have had successful experiences in route races. I’ve found odds as high as 200-1 on Home Brew and 225-1 on Dash Attack this week. I feel like either of these two could easily win this race, and if they do, their odds will drop considerably. The shortest price in the field in terms of the future book is Ben Diesel who can be found for anywhere between 95-1 and 125-1 at the moment. From a value standpoint, I feel the other two are just as good. These three horses feel like the horses that have the best chance of progressing on the Derby Trail after today.





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