The Road to the Kentucky Derby – via Arkansas – begins on Sunday at Oaklawn with the Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile. Victory Formation is expected to be the favorite in the horse racing odds. There are also a combined eight graded stake races at Gulfstream and San Anita on Saturday to consider playing when betting online at the racebook. Two could serve as preps for the Pegasus World Cup dirt and turf races in January.
Smarty Jones Stakes, Race 8, Post Time: 5:10 p.m. ET
The winner of this one-mile race between eight 3-year-olds receives 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Steve Asmussen and Brad Cox each have two horses entered and at least two should receive plenty of attention at the betting windows. Victory Formation is 2-for-2 lifetime and Cox’s strongest suit, although he doesn’t appear in our odds to win the Kentucky Derby list. Asmussen has Communication Memo, who should provide the stiffest challenge. Victory Formation, though, should be very tough on the front end. Ken McPeek also sends out a pair with Ten Days Later capable of closing into the exacta.
- The Play: 8-5 Exacta
Sugar Swirl Stakes, Race 3, Post Time: 1:10 p.m. ET
Frank’s Rockette is the 4-5 morning-line favorite in this Grade III for fillies and mares at six furlongs. Frank’s Rockette, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Luis Saez, was no factor in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in her last, but can make amends here with a stalking trip behind an abundance of speed. She finished second in 2021 Sugar Swirl. Joyful Cadence is capable of completing the exacta with a ground-saving trip from the rail.
- The Play: 4-1 Exacta
Suwannee River Stakes, Race 7, 3:09
This Grade II race for fillies and mares at one mile on the turf is competitive with several boasting big chances to win. Scottish Star and Bay Storm, the morning-line favorites, should control this from the start and will be tough to mow down. Lady Rockstar has won off the bench before as she races for the first time since July. She hasn’t shown early speed in her three U.S. races, but Irad Ortiz Jr. may need to coax some out of her to avoid a wide trip from post 10.
- The Play: 1,3 with 1,3,10 Exactas
Mr. Prospector Stakes, Race 8, 3:41
A dozen line up in this Grade III race at seven furlongs and many possess extraordinary early speed. Pappacap has raced exclusively in graded stakes company since breaking his maiden. Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse took Pappacap off the Triple Crown trail after the Florida Derby, spotting him in shorter races. He worked well for his first start since July, and is taken to sit behind the abundance of speed and show his class in the stretch under Joel Rosario.
- The Play: 4 to Win
Fort Lauderdale Stakes, Race 9, 4:10
Colonel Liam returns to action in the Grade II race at 1⅛ miles on the turf. Colonel Liam, trained by Todd Pletcher, was last seen finishing ninth in the Dubai Turf in March. The two-time reigning Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational champion worked up a storm in preparation for this, but the layoff – and post 12 — leave him ripe for an upset. Shadow Spinx, the longer price of two trained by Mike Maker, can close at a big price under jockey Paco Lopez.
- The Play: 4 to Win
Harlan’s Holiday Stakes, Race 10, 4:40
Skippylongstocking and Simplification endured challenging campaigns as 3-year-olds. Skippylongstocking finished a non-threatening third in the Belmont Stakes before winning the West Virginia Derby, 6¼ lengths ahead of Simplification. Skippylongstocking is capable of wiring this field at a decent price. Chilean import O’Connor is 10-for-19 lifetime after a successful U.S. debut in which he demolished a field of optional claimers, but will be tested for class here.
- The Play: 7 to Win
Joe Hernandez Stakes, Race 1, Post time, 3 p.m. ET
Rain is expected, so this Grade II at about 6½ furlongs on the downhill turf course could be moved to the main track. Only two horses have raced on off dirt, but a third is taken to handle the slop. Super Ocho was a factor in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, taking the lead before fading to fourth at 41-1. The price will be a lot shorter here, but he is expected to go down the road.
- The Play: 3 to Win
Robert J. Frankel Stakes, Race 3, 4:00
One horse entered in this Grade III race at 1⅛ miles, scheduled on the turf, for fillies and mares has off-dirt experience. This 11-horse field will likely be obliterated by scratches, but Queen Goddess may not be one of them. She finished fifth on dirt at 5-2 in the Grade III Bayakoa at Oaklawn in February, and her pedigree suggests she’ll handle the wet track.
The Play: 10 to Win
Las Flores Stakes, Race 8, 6:37
This Grade III race at six furlongs for fillies and mares is another that features only one horse with off-track experience. That one doesn’t figure, but Violent Runner does. The John Sadler trainee, ridden by little-known Emily Ellingwood, can get a clean trip from post six.
- The Play: 6 to Win