Three years ago this weekend, trainer Charles “Scotter” Dickey won the $50,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park with a promising 3-year-old son of Flatter for owner Art Preston’s Preston Stables LLC. It was a solid three and-a-half length victory for Flat Out in only his third career start and enough to put him on the road to the 2009 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But feet ailments would soon begin to plague Flat Out and during a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (gr. 2) in April, a fractured shoulder was added to the colt’s injury list, ending the colt's chances to go to Kentucky for the Run for the Roses.
Flat Out ended the year with a disappointing sixth place finish behind winner Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs in November and earned some time off for some well deserved rest. But there would be no more long rehabilitation.
Apparently Dickey figures Flat Out has missed enough racing in his career because they start 2012 quickly with his turf debut Saturday in the $100,000 Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (gr. 3T) at Gulfstream Park. The 1-1/16-mile Ft. Lauderdale will be the turf debut for Flat Out against eleven others that include grade 1 winner Teaks North and European group I winner Mutual Trust.
“We worked him on the turf here and decided on this race for a combination of reasons,” Dickey said Wednesday morning. “We still want to try him on the turf and the timing is right to get to the Donn Handicap (gr. I). If we waited and ran him in the Sunshine Millions (Classic on Jan. 28) it would probably be too quick back to make the Donn (Feb. 11).”
The Saturday card at Gulfstream Park also features the grade 3 Hal’s Hope Stakes at one mile for older horses where the popular Jackson Bend makes his first start of the year. Trained by Nick Zito, the Florida-bred Jackson Bend was last seen finishing third to Amazombie in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) in November. Before that he was second to Uncle Mo in the grade 2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park and he won the grade 1 Forego at Saratoga at seven furlongs.
The Hal’s Hope has drawn a field of nine that also includes Successful Mission and Soaring Empire, both stakes winners at Monmouth Park in New Jersey in their last starts. Successful Mission is making his first start since winning the $77,000 Elkwood Stakes in May and Soaring Empire returns after winning the $100,000 Majestic Light Stakes in late July.
Filly On Fire Baby Challenges Colts in Smarty Jones
Returning to the Smarty Jones Stakes, the 2012 version runs during a special opening weekend Monday card at Oaklawn Park and is the first in a series of races for sophomores leading up to the grade I Arkansas Derby in April then Kentucky Derby in May. The $100,000 Smarty Jones this year is likely to feature the filly On Fire Baby taking on the boys in an interesting early Derby story line. Trained by Gary Hartlage, On Fire Baby won the Pocahontas Stakes (gr. II) and Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs last Fall against fillies.
Trainer Gary Hartlage talking about On Fire Baby
Further west, early action on the Derby trail gets under way in the $100,000 California Derby Saturday at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco where trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has two contenders. Hollendorfer will saddle Russian Greek, winner of the Dec. 10 Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate; and maiden race winner Reconstruction.
The California Derby will also include Southern California invader Hodge, third in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III) in November; Blacky the Bull and Cahill Chrome, third and fourth respectively in the Gold Rush. The California Derby is the local prep race for the grade 3 El Camino Real Derby in February.