Kentucky Derby 149: 2023 Smarty Jones Stakes Sports a Top Cox Prospect

Last week we nailed a winner on the early portion of the Kentucky Derby Trail. We tabbed Jace’s Road as a value play as second choice in the Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds, and he delivered a dominating 5-length victory at 2-1.

This week we move to Oaklawn Park for the Smarty Jones Stakes at a mile.

$250,000 SMARTY JONES STAKES. 1 Mile. Dirt.

Selection: #8 Victory Formation (6-5).

Reason: Victory Formation owns the best pace figure and the top BRIS speed figure. That’s a double advantage his relatively unaccomplished opponents are unlikely to overcome.

There are other positive signs as well.

Brad Cox stables this runner at Fair Grounds, but he skipped the Gun Runner Stakes last week to let Victory Formation pursue the much larger purse here. That suggests Cox sees this horse as superior to his Gun Runner winner Jace’s Road. A look at interior fractions reveals why Cox might’ve come to this conclusion (FQ = Final Quarter):

  • Victory Formation, :21.3, :45.1, FQ :24.1
  • Jace’s Road, :22.3, :45.3, FQ :24.1

The fractions show Victory Formation owns greater early speed, but he also finishes his sprints just as fast as the more tactical Jace’s Road. The one looming question is whether VF can carry his speed around two turns. That will depend on the early pace, which looks favorable for VF.

Here is a comparison to the only other fast-early contender, Communication Memo:

  • Victory Formation, :21.3, :45.1, FQ :24.1
  • Communication Memo, :22.3, :45.4, FQ :24.4

It appears as though Victory Formation won’t be overly pressured early and that he might face no real pressure at all. With top-flight jockey Flavian Prat named to ride, Cox is signaling he thinks this runner is a legitimate Derby prospect. Victory Formation should not only survive the mile but absolutely crush it against this field.