Weekend Lineup: Kentucky Derby Prep Season Heating Up

The racing spotlight focuses on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this weekend, with three qualifying points races to be run on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct, Oaklawn and Santa Anita. A total of 17 points are offered in each race on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top four finishers.

A fourth race for 3-year-olds, the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park, is not a points race but kicks off the road to the G1 Florida Derby, traditionally one of the most productive races that leads to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Aqueduct’s $150,000 Jerome, run at one mile around one turn, has drawn a field of eight 3-year-olds. Fourteen have been entered in Oaklawn’s $250,000 Southwest, run at a mile around two turns. Five are scheduled to go postward in the $100,000 Sham, a Grade 3 race run around two turns at one mile at Santa Anita. Two of the five are trained by Bob Baffert, whose horses are not eligible for Kentucky Derby points due to his being excluded from all Churchill Downs tracks after Medina Spirit, first-place finishers in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, failed a post-race drug test.

In addition to the races for Triple Crown hopefuls, there are two other graded stakes on Santa Anita’s New Year’s Day program: the G2 Joe Hernandez for older turf sprinters running on the picturesque downhill turf course; and the G3 Robert J. Frankel for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles on the infield grass oval.

Here’s a brief look at the four 3-year-old races (all times Eastern).

Saturday

3:50 p.m. – Jerome at Aqueduct

The Jerome was first run in 1866 and has been won by some legendary horses, but that was when it was contested during the fall. Since being moved to January, it has not attracted classic prospects.

This year’s field is led by Jeremiah O’Dwyer-trained Cooke Creek, an Uncle Mo colt who was 2-for-2 at Delaware Park before a good second to Baffert-trained Rockefeller in the G3 Nashua Stakes Nov. 7. He draws the inside post and will be ridden by Manny Franco. Starting from the outside post will be the Rudy Rodriguez-trained Hagler, the expected pacesetter who won back-to-back sprint races at Belmont and Aqueduct and is making his stakes debut. Jorge Vargas Jr. rides.

Jerome entries

4:42 p.m. – Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park

Morning line favorite Strike Hard has a win over the Gulfstream surface at the same distance as the Mucho Macho Man but disappointed in his only stakes start for trainer Matthew Williams when sent to Churchill Downs for a seventh-place finish in the G3 Iroquois Stakes in September. Junior Alvarado rides. Graphic Detail, a Practical Joke colt trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, won at first asking at Belmont Park Nov. 6 and has been training steadily at Payson Park. Red-hot Luis Saez has the mount.

Mucho Macho Man entries

5:13 p.m. – Smarty Jones at Oaklawn

Oaklawn has built a formidable series of races for 3-year-olds leading to the Triple Crown. After Saturday’s Smarty Jones comes the $750,000, G3 Southwest Stakes on Jan. 29; the $1 million, G2 Rebel on Feb. 26; and the $1,250,000, G1 Arkansas Derby on April 2.

The Smarty Jones appears to be a wide open contest, with Chris Hartman-trained Kavod – a $50,000 claim at Churchill Downs in November – the only stakes winner in the field of 14. He won the six-furlong Advent Stakes at Oaklawn Dec. 3. Home Brew, a Street Sense colt from the Brad Cox barn, comes off a solid allowance win going a mile at Oaklawn Dec. 4 and is the morning line favorite. He began his career in Maryland with Kelly Breen and was transferred after that race to Cox, finishing second in a Nov. 14 Churchill Downs allowance race before his local win. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has a trio entered in the Smarty Jones, but two of them – Cairama and Cool Papa G – drew the 11 and 12 posts, respectively, posing a serious challenge for their riders. His best hope may rest with All in Sync, breaking from the two post under Ricardo Santana Jr. A 12-1 longshot breaking from the rail is Kenny McPeek-trained Dash Attack, a Munnings colt who captured his debut at Oaklawn by 1 1/4 lengths. David Cohen rode him that day and will be aboard again on Saturday.

Smarty Jones entries

7:00 p.m. – Sham at Santa Anita

Rockefeller and Newgrange represent the barn of Bob Baffert, who dominates California races for 2- and 3-year-olds on dirt. Rockefeller comes off a win in the G3 Nashua after being sent to  Belmont in November and Newgrange won at first asking at Del Mar. Mackinnon, third in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf for trainer Doug O’Neill, is testing the main track for the first time since his debut at Santa Anita last May. Oviatt Class is a talented horse who would benefit from a quick pace. He was an unlucky fifth behind Corniche in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for trainer Keith Desormeaux and his brother, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux.

Sham entries

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