LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Smile Happy earned his first stakes win since the 2021 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) on Friday at Churchill Downs, knocking off the favorites in the $600,000 Alysheba (G2) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.
Pressing 7-10 favorite West Will Power for much of the 1 1/16-mile journey, Smile Happy poked his head in front around the far turn and gradually extended his lead down the stretch under Brian Hernandez Jr. and won by two lengths.
“(Smile Happy) got to his position so easy around the first turn. I expected to be three or four lengths back but he put himself in such a good spot. He had his ears flipping back and forth and I knew he was comfortable.” Hernandez said.
Art Collector, the Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner, took a run at Smile Happy through the stretch but settled for second, three parts of a length ahead of West Will Power. Last Samurai finished fourth, while 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Rich Strike was a non-descript fifth in his season debut. Milliken trailed the field of six.
Owned by Lucky Seven Stable and trained by Kenny McPeek, Smile Happy won in a time of 1:41.29 over a fast track and paid $17.48.
The Alysheba was the fourth win in eight starts for Smile Happy. An early favorite for the 2022 Derby after winning the Kentucky Jockey Club impressively, Smile Happy finished second in both the Risen Star (G2) and Blue Grass (G1) before finishing eighth to Rich Strike in the Derby itself.
Out of action following the 2022 Derby until March 16, Smile Happy won a nine-furlong allowance at Oaklawn Park first time off the bench, but was only third to Hopper in the Oaklawn Mile (G3) two weeks later.
“He’s tricky to deal with sometimes and the last couple of races, we’ve finally figured his number,” McPeek said. “We ran him back quickly at Oaklawn because he was difficult to train at Oaklawn. We got him back here and he’s done everything right. But, we learned a value lesson in his last race at Oaklawn. He’s a true alpha. He wants everything his own way. But, he can run like the wind. I’m really proud of him.”
Bred in Kentucky by Moreau Bloodstock International and White Bloodstock, Smile Happy sold at Fasig-Tipton for $185,000 as a yearling. By Runhappy, he was produced by Pleasant Smile, a daughter of champion Pleasant Tap.