The first of four Kentucky Derby qualifiers at Oaklawn Park, Sunday’s $250,000 Smarty Jones S. marks the stakes debut for unbeaten Victory Formation. Flavien Prat, who has won or placed with four of his five Kentucky Derby mounts (5-1-1-2), will pick up the mount on the Brad Cox-trained colt.
By freshman sire and 2017 Belmont (G1) winner Tapwrit, Victory Formation romped wire-to-wire by 4 3/4 lengths when making his first start in a Keeneland maiden in mid-October. He came back five weeks later with a game neck score over entry-level allowance foes on the Nov. 26 “Stars of Tomorrow II’ program at Churchill Downs, and the $340,000 two-year-old purchase has registered commendable Brisnet Speed ratings (93 and 95).
Victory Formation will stretch to a two-turn mile and break from the far outside post in the eight-horse field.
As part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Smarty Jones will reward points on a 10-4-3-2-1 scale to the top five finishers.
Cox is also responsible for Angel of Empire, a Pennsylvania-bred son of Classic Empire who exits a 6 1/4-length win over entry-level allowance rivals at Horseshoe Indianapolis in mid-November.
Denington, one of two in the field for Kenny McPeek, rates as a top challenger following a fast-closing fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill. A convincing maiden scorer two back, the gray Gun Runner colt was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths last time, and Denington will look to challenge in the final stages with new rider Francisco Arrieta.
His stablemate Ten Days Later will also try to get involved in the latter stages. A close third versus allowance foes last time, the Collected colt won a well-regarded maiden race at Keeneland two back. David Cabrera takes over the reins.
Leading Oaklawn trainer Steve Asmussen has a pair in Communication Memo and How Did He Do That. After placing in his first three outings, including a third to Victory Formation, Communication Memo broke through when stretching to two turns at Oaklawn on Dec. 16, drawing off to a four-length maiden decision. Ricardo Santana Jr. retains the assignment. Zia Park stakes winner How Did He Do That, fifth in the Dec. 9 Advent S. at Oaklawn, will make his first two-two attempt.
Indiana-bred maiden winner C. J’s Storm and maiden claiming victor Western Ghent complete the field.