June 19, 2024

Catching Freedom catches fire late in Smarty Jones

Catching Freedom captured the Smarty Jones on Oaklawn Park's Road to the Kentucky Derby (Photo by Coady Photography)

Albaugh Family Stables is once more on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, after Catching Freedom motored late to win the first scoring race in the series at Oaklawn Park, Monday’s $300,000 Smarty Jones S. The 17-10 favorite banked 10 Derby points while handing trainer Brad Cox his third victory in this stakes in the past four years.

Cox had sent out the exacta here a year ago, with the speedy Victory Formation holding sway over the Albaugh Family’s late-running Angel of Empire. But the runner-up proved to have more upside over a route of ground. Angel of Empire went on to capture the Risen Star (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) and placed third in the Kentucky Derby as the favorite.

With that background, it’s worth noting that the Smarty Jones was extended from one mile to 1 1/16 miles for the 2024 edition. Catching Freedom certainly benefited from the added ground, since he didn’t get organized until well into the stretch.

A half-brother to Bishops Bay, who was a promising sophomore for Cox last spring, Catching Freedom has been favored in all three starts. The Constitution colt was a dynamic debut winner at Churchill Downs Oct. 1, only to wind up a green (and troubled) fourth behind Parchment Party beneath the TwinSpires on Nov. 9. That allowance turned out to be productive, as the runner-up, First World War, just missed in the Mucho Macho Man S. earlier on Monday at Gulfstream Park.

Catching Freedom still ran more like a raw recruit than a polished professional in the Smarty Jones, but a more straightforward trip helped his cause. In contrast, stablemate Gettysburg Address saw his chances virtually eliminated out of the gate, when he was pinballed and relegated to last, much further back than expected.

Although Catching Freedom also raced well off the pace, that’s been his comfort zone. Under new rider Cristian Torres, he relaxed early, then steadily improved position at every call.

Up front, Lagynos carved out splits of :23.02, :47.01, and 1:12.20 while prompted by Mystik Dan. Just Steel, perched in a tracking third, ranged up to accost the leaders turning for home and gradually wore them down.

Yet Catching Freedom was just beginning to level off on the outside. Lugging in on his wrong lead as he did in his allowance loss, he took off once Torres got him to switch back to his right lead. Catching Freedom bounded 2 1/2 lengths clear in 1:44.59.

Just Steel held second (five points) by a neck from Informed Patriot, who gamely sneaked through on the rail to snatch third (three points) by a neck. Informed Patriot, who was previously third in the Street Sense (G3), doubled his overall tally to six points.

Gettysburg Address closed relentlessly for fourth (two points) and continued his momentum on the gallop-out, prompting a what-might-have-been with a clean start. Also fourth in the Street Sense, Gettysburg Address has a total of four points.

Mystik Dan boxed on for a long way before tiring to fifth in the final yards, good for one point. Next came Lagynos, Mo Winning, Chaperone, and Cox’s longshot, Fidget.

Catching Freedom now sports a mark of 3-2-0-0, $237,250. He’s ahead of the curve compared to half-brother Bishops Bay, who didn’t make it to the races until February of his three-year-old season. Bishops Bay flashed talent right away. Beating Godolphin’s classy First Mission on debut at Fair Grounds, he missed narrowly in the Peter Pan (G3) to Arcangelo, the subsequent Belmont (G1) and Travers (G1) hero. Bishops Bay was last seen finishing second to Two Phil’s in the Ohio Derby (G3).

Bred by WinStar Farm in Kentucky, Catching Freedom sold for $575,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. He is the third stakes performer for his dam, the Grade 1-placed stakes vixen Catch My Drift, who produced multiple stakes-placed Strava prior to Bishops Bay.

Interestingly, Catching Freedom is bred on the same cross as fellow WinStar-bred Gettysburg Address, himself a Constitution colt out of a Pioneerof the Nile mare.