There’s no juicy backstory regarding the origin of Uncontested’s name, Harry Rosenblum said on the eve of the colt’s 3-year-old debut in the $ 150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Monday at Oaklawn.
“It’s impossible to name horses,” said Rosenblum, a Little Rock, Ark., businessman who owns Uncontested in partnership with Robert LaPenta. “I told a guy if we can just get this name, it’s a good name for a good horse.”
So far, so good on the name – and the horse.
Following a dazzling career debut victory and a solid start around two turns, Uncontested is the 2-1 program favorite for the Smarty Jones, which goes as the eighth of nine races on a special holiday card, which also features a free Oaklawn cap giveaway. Probable post time is 4:38 p.m. (Central).
The 1-mile race is Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby preps, a series that continues with the $ 500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20, $ 900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18 and $ 1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 15. The Smarty Jones offers 17 points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, including 10 to the winner.
The Smarty Jones field from the rail out: Petrov, Jose Ortiz to ride, 5-2; Warrior’s Club, Robby Albarado, 7-2; Cu Rahy, Glenn Corbett, 15-1; Rowdy the Warrior, Luis Quinonez, 6-1; Unbridled Eagle, Ramon Vazquez, 8-1; Uncontested, Channing Hill, 2-1; Romeo O Romeo, Chris Landeros, 12-1; and Love That Lute, Alex Birzer, 20-1.
Uncontested won 1 of 2 starts last year, narrowly missing Keeneland‘s 6 ½-furlong track record in a front-running six-length career debut victory Oct. 19 before finishing fourth in the $ 200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs.
Uncontested, after breaking from sluggishly from post 12, shot to the lead before backing up in the final furlong to finish five lengths behind unbeaten McCraken, a leading Kentucky Derby candidate.
“I know the horse that won it, he’s the real deal,” said Hill, the son-in-law of the Uncontested’s trainer, Wayne Catalano. “I mean, he had to really run hard into the first turn. He settled nice and he punched hard. They just ran him down. I can’t believe he got beat for third.”
Uncontested has recorded two bullet workouts at Oaklawn in advance of the Smarty Jones, including a 5-furlong move in 1:01 Tuesday morning under Hill.
“He’s a nice colt that’s coming along real nice,” Hill said. “He’s made some good strides, even from when he broke his maiden until now.
Catalano said the 12 post “killed us” in the Kentucky Jockey Club, but he and Rosenblum believe cutting back in distance – Oaklawn’s mile races begin and end at the sixteenth pole in the stretch – will benefit the son of Tiz Wonderful in his 2017 debut.
“I think the horse will rate or he can go to the lead, either one,” said Rosenblum, who purchased Uncontested for $ 20,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Catalano, who saddled Crypto Star to win the 1997 Arkansas Derby, said the hope is to run Uncontested in all four legs of Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series. He said he’s not surprised how well Uncontested has performed during his brief career, particularly after tipping his hand one morning leading up to his debut.
“He worked unbelievable out of the gate,” Catalano said. “I was impressed.”
Rosenblum co-owned 2015 Smarty Jones winner Far Right, then trained by Ron Moquett of Hot Springs.
Moquett is scheduled to send out the 5-2 second choice in Petrov, who is coming off a runner-up finish in the $ 100,000 King’s Swan Stakes Dec. 2 at Aqueduct. The lightly raced Petrov (1 for 2) has never started around two turns.
“You’ve got to ask every one of them the question,” said Moquett, who also co-owns Petrov. “You buy them with a certain thing in mind, and then you want to hope like hell that they do it. We’ll get to find that out together. I think all indications are that he’s going to be a good route horse.”
The possibility of an off track Monday is another wild card, Moquett said.
“I wouldn’t even work him on a sloppy track, so the gamblers will be finding out with me,” Moquett said.
Warrior’s Club, the 7-2 third choice in the program, collared Uncontested in the shadow of the wire in the Kentucky Jockey Club to finish third for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the 2013 Smarty Jones with eventual 3-year-old champion male Will Take Charge.
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel (Rowdy the Warrior) won the 2011 Smarty Jones with Caleb’s Posse, runner-up for an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
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