Remembering the 2004 Southwest: Smarty party begins in Arkansas
The 2004 Southwest Stakes represented a significant step for Smarty Jones, who opened his racing career with three straight dominant wins but was now attempting to establish himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby prospect.
Trainer John Servis opted for the Oaklawn Park route but plenty of skepticism still surrounded the speedy Pennsylvania-bred son of Elusive Quality; Smarty Jones concluded his juvenile campaign with a 15-length tally in the Pennsylvania Nursery at Philadelphia Park for state-breds and came back with a runaway five-length win in the Count Fleet at Aqueduct in early January, two races not associated with serious Kentucky Derby contenders.
Previously held at a one-mile distance, the 2004 Southwest was the first of three two-turn stakes at Oaklawn for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. The Hot Springs, Arkansas oval now hosts four events, with the one-mile Smarty Jones kicking off the series in January, and the Southwest distance has been extended to 1 1/16 miles.
Monday’s Southwest (G3) marks the last race of the 2016 “Prep Season” portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, awarding points on a 10-4-2-1 basis toward the May 7 Run for the Roses. Point values increase to 50-20-10-5 beginning with TwinSpires Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds on February 20.
Smarty Jones was bet down to 1-2 odds against eight Southwest rivals and showed speed from the start, chasing fast early splits of :22.98 and :45.87. He advanced to the lead nearing the conclusion of the far turn, opened up a clear advantage in upper stretch, and held on late to score by three-quarters of a length.
Racing fans started to take note but the Southwest didn’t vault Smarty Jones toward the top of any Kentucky Derby lists. He wasn’t included in pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager afterward and the diminishing win margin, with runner-up Two Down Automatic making it close in the end, resulted in Smarty Jones leaving the starting gate of the Rebel Stakes a month later as the 7-2 third choice, the only time in nine career starts the eventual champion 3-year-old wasn’t favored.
Smarty Jones went on to post a 3 ¼-length decision in the Rebel and established himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite with a 1 ½-length victory in the Arkansas Derby (G1), registering BRIS Speed ratings of 109 and 105, respectively, in his final two preps.
The chestnut colt rolled to a 2 ¾-length Kentucky Derby win in the slop at Churchill Downs and posted an 11 ½-length thrashing in the Preakness (G1) before sustaining his first setback in the career finale, a runner-up at 1-5 odds in the Belmont Stakes (G1).