November 30, 2023

Kentucky Derby Report January 18: Uncontested rolls unopposed in Smarty Jones

Uncontested made short work of rivals in the January 16 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park, posting a convincing wire-to-wire victory as lone speed on a sloppy track. The jury is still out on whether the Tiz Wonderful colt can develop into a serious Kentucky Derby contender but the Wayne Catalano-trainee opened his 3-year-old campaign in encouraging fashion, registering a career-best 97 BRIS Speed rating.

Uncontested has now won 2-of-3 starts.

Related: Uncontested blows away rivals in Smarty Jones

An impressive wire-to-wire debut winner at Keeneland, the dark bay jumped straight to stakes in his first two-turn attempt, the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club on November 26. He caught a speed-favoring track at Churchill Downs, with Farrell leading wire-to-wire at 10-1 odds in the Golden Rod (G2) a race earlier, and Uncontested sprinted forward from post 12 to establish reasonable splits on a short lead before giving way in upper stretch, retreating to fourth behind well-regarded winner McCraken.

His Kentucky Jockey Club effort remains a little disconcerting and Uncontested is a half-brother to Grade 3 winner Solitary Ranger, who was at his best over a mile or less.

Uncontested was cutting back to a mile in the Smarty Jones and may have been getting a little weary late, drifting toward the middle of the track beneath Channing Hill. It was no surprise to see him take to the wet conditions – Tiz Wonderful’s offspring win at a strong 19% rate on off tracks – and getting clear early against suspect competition obviously played to his advantage.

Let’s see if he can back up his Smarty Jones performance against deeper competition on a fast track. His dam is by 1992 Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee but Uncontested hails from a modest female family that offers little suggestion for classic distances.

He does possess high speed, registering century-topping BRIS E2 Pace ratings in all three starts, and it’s easy to envision Uncontested developing into a top performer at shorter distances if the Kentucky Derby trail doesn’t pan out.

Runner-up Petrov tracked in second most of the way and jockey Jose Ortiz tried to go after the pacesetter nearing the completion of the far turn before coming up empty in the short stretch. The son of Flatter earned only a 91 BRIS Speed rating, similar to the 89 received for a head second in the 6-furlong King’s Swan at Aqueduct in early December, and Petrov will need to improve significantly to challenge in future preps.

Third-placer Rowdy the Warrior was exiting an unplaced effort in the Springboard Mile at Remington and Warrior’s Club took a step back off a third-place effort in the Kentucky Jockey Club, checking in a dismal fourth in the Smarty Jones.

Other runners from last week

Dabster, who was disqualified after finishing first in his debut on the December 26 opening-day program, came back to graduate in game fashion while stretching out to two turns at Santa Anita January 16. The Curlin colt sped forward at the start to show the way on a short lead, drifted out slightly leaving the far turn and dueled determinedly through the final furlong among rivals to prevail by a half-length.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Dabster registered a respectable 93 BRIS Speed rating. The chestnut cost $1 million as 2-year-old in training purchase for Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum and the Kentucky-bred is out of an A.P. Indy mare. His dam is a full-sister to Ender’s Sister, who produced top sprinter A.P. Indian, but there are numerous stamina influences in this female family. Dabster could head straight to a Kentucky Derby qualifier.

Baffert also unveiled Aquamarine, a son of Gemologist who rallied from just off the pace to win going away by nearly two lengths over a muddy Santa Anita track on January 13. He’s playing catch-up and it’s well-documented that no Kentucky Derby winner has been unraced at 2 since the 1800s, but Aquamarine left a fine impression in the 5 ½-furlong maiden and earned a 95 BRIS Speed rating.

Apartfromthecrowd finally broke through for Chad Brown, rallying to capture a one-mile and 70-yard maiden by four lengths at Aqueduct on January 14. Favored in all three starts, the dark bay colt hails from the first crop of Gio Ponti and is bred to relish longer distances on his female side. Apartfromthecrowd displayed a nice turn of foot into the stretch, registering a 102 BRIS Late Pace number as well as career-best 93 Speed rating.

Hence overcame a stumbling start to break his maiden over the sloppy track on the Smarty Jones undercard. The chestnut colt appears to be making fine progress for Steve Asmussen and his BRIS Speed numbers are eligible to improve off this confidence-builder (earned a career-best 86 in his fourth career start). The son of Street Boss hails from the A.P. Indy mare Floating Island, a half-sister to multiple Grade 3-winning Canadian Broodmare of the Year Pico Teneriffe.

Keeneland maiden winner Rockshaw finished fourth to subsequent Jerome (G3) winner El Areeb when making his stakes bow in the November 19 James Lewis at Laurel Park and the Ron Moquett-trained colt flattered that rival when recording a 2 ¾-length allowance triumph at Oaklawn on January 14. However, the son of Maclean’s Music appears better suited to sprints.

Up Ahead

Fair Grounds hosts the first of three races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the January 21 Lecomte (G3) at a mile and 70 yards, and a full field of 12 was entered. The first three qualifying races in January – Jerome, Sham (G3) and Smarty Jones – were all contested on off tracks and wet conditions are expected at Fair Grounds this weekend.

Untrapped, one of three entrants for trainer Steve Asmussen, is a slight 9-2 morning line favorite in the contentious field. The Trappe Shot colt finished second to Uncontested when opening his career at Keeneland and exits a romping maiden tally at Churchill Downs, scoring by 5 ¼ lengths as the 6-5 favorite among 12 runners.

Kentucky Derby Top 20

  1. CLASSIC EMPIRE: Soon-to-be-named juvenile champion returns in Feb. 4 Holy Bull
  2. MCCRAKEN: Unbeaten Ky Jockey Club winner shows recent 5-furlong bullet work
  3. MASTERY: Unbeaten Los Alamitos Futurity winner returned to worktab Wednesday after 3-week absence
  4. AMERICAN ANTHEM: Up-and-coming colt may have high ceiling for Baffert
  5. GORMLEY: Sham rebound sets him up to be a major player out west
  6. MO TOWN: Remsen winner is based in Florida but could point toward New York route
  7. EL AREEB: Took to two turns with a flourish in Jerome
  8. PRACTICAL JOKE: Multiple Grade 1 hero and BC Juvenile third-placer returned to worktab Tuesday
  9. IRISH WAR CRY: Curlin colt exits Laurel stakes win, headed to points’ races for Motion
  10. NO DOZING: Grade 2 runner-up is readying at Tampa for sophomore campaign
  11. GUNNEVERA: Dedicated closer like Exaggerator & captured the same stakes (Saratoga Special & Delta Jackpot) as a juvenile
  12. BATTALION RUNNER: Last-out maiden winner could make presence felt for Pletcher
  13. LOOKIN AT LEE: Hard-trying colt exits a fourth in BC Juvenile
  14. UNTRAPPED: Impressive maiden winner tries stakes rivals in Lecomte
  15. WILD SHOT: Concluded 2016 with placings to Classic Empire and McCraken
  16. FACT FINDING: Pletcher trainee set to face graded rivals after three easy wins
  17. KLIMT: Juvenile Grade 1 winner has been missing from worktab this month for Sherman
  18. UNCONTESTED: Smarty Jones winner makes list but longer distances remain a concern
  19. GOOD SAMARITAN: Joe Kristufek thinks BC Juvenile Turf third-placer can take to main track
  20. J BOYS ECHO: Jennie Rees a fan of Romans-trained maiden winner