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Smile Happy Wheels Back in Oaklawn Mile

Over the same distance, 3-year-olds compete in the $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes.

Smile Happy takes an allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park

Smile Happy takes an allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park

Coady Photography

Returning to the stakes ranks after an auspicious comeback in an allowance optional claimer March 16, graded winner Smile Happy will break from the rail against six rivals in the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) April 1 on the Arkansas Derby (G1) undercard.

Winner of the 2021 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) as a 2-year-old and later second in both the 2022 Risen Star Stakes (G2) and 2022 Blue Grass (G1) at 3, Smile Happy went to the sidelines until his recent Oaklawn Park return following an eighth-place finish in the 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs. The talented 4-year-old Runhappy  colt then knocked off the rust over a sloppy track in his return, grinding out a victory against second-level runners by 1 1/4 lengths.

"It was such an impressive race and a really good time, too," trainer Kenny McPeek said following the win, in which Smile Happy ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.95.

Francisco Arrieta returns in the irons on the Lucky Seven Stable-owned colt.

Returning on similarly short rest is Silver Prospector, sixth in the Essex Handicap (G3) March 18 at Oaklawn. The 6-year-old son of Declaration of War has earned more than $1.3 million for owners Ed and Susie Orr and trainer Steve Asmussen.

The locally-based Caddo River and California graded stakes winner Hopper are other top contenders, with the latter potentially the second betting favorite behind Smile Happy after tiring to finish a close fourth in the March 4 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) at 1 1/4 miles. Trainer Bob Baffert removes blinkers from Hopper's racing equipment. 

"Last time, he was a little aggressive on the pace and I think he never really settled. Just got a little tired at the end," the Hall of Famer said.

Baffert—37-for-87 lifetime at Oaklawn, according to Oaklawn publicity—seeks his first Oaklawn Mile victory after finishing second in 2020 with future Eclipse Award winner Improbable  and again last year with grade 2 winner Cezanne.

One-Mile Hot Springs Loaded With Speed

A few races after older horses compete in the Oaklawn Mile, 3-year-olds are in action over the same trip in the $200,000 Hot Spring Stakes.

Eyeing Clover - MSW - OP - 123122
Photo: Coady Photography
Eyeing Clover breaks his maiden at Oaklawn Park

Seven are entered, many of whom fell short in graded company in their most recent starts. Gun Pilot, Frosted Departure, and Powerful were seventh, eighth, and ninth, respectively, in the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn, and Eyeing Clover and Carmel Road were fourth and eighth in the Gotham Stakes (G3) over a one-turn mile at Aqueduct Racetrack March 4.

The latter, who raced for trainer Tim Yakteen in the Gotham, is back racing for Baffert Saturday, with his owners no longer seeking qualifying points with the colt in pursuit of the May 6 Kentucky Derby. Baffert is barred from participation at Churchill Downs through early July for equine medication positives.

"Nice little spot for him," Baffert said of running Carmel Road in the Hot Springs. "I think he's a miler."

Ten Strike Racing's Eyeing Clover races with blinkers off after losing for the first time in the Gotham. The Lookin At Lucky  colt had previously won a pair of sprints for trainer Brad Cox.

Both the Oaklawn Mile and Hot Springs begin and end at what is typically the sixteenth pole at the track. This creates a longer run to the first of two turns but a shorter stretch run leaving the second turn.

Entries: Oaklawn Mile S. (G3)

Oaklawn Park, Saturday, April 1, 2023, Race 5

  • Grade III
  • 1m
  • Dirt
  • $400,000
  • 4 yo's & up
  • 2:17 PM (local)
11Smile Happy (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateFrancisco Arrieta121Kenneth G. McPeek9/5
22Necker Island (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateMitchell Murrill117Chris A. Hartman15/1
33Hero Status (KY)Cristian A. Torres117Robertino Diodoro12/1
44Silver Prospector (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateTyler Gaffalione121Steven M. Asmussen8/1
55Caddo River (KY)Ricardo Santana, Jr.121D. Wayne Lukas4/1
66Atoka (KY)Mickaelle Michel117D. Wayne Lukas20/1
77Hopper (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJohn R. Velazquez117Bob Baffert7/5

Entries: Hot Springs S.

Oaklawn Park, Saturday, April 1, 2023, Race 8

  • STK
  • 1m
  • Dirt
  • $200,000
  • 3 yo
  • 3:57 PM (local)
11Powerful (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateTyler Gaffalione119Steven M. Asmussen12/1
22Eyeing Clover (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateFlorent Geroux117Brad H. Cox5/2
33Gun Pilot (KY)Ricardo Santana, Jr.119Steven M. Asmussen7/2
44Cactus (MD)Rafael Bejarano117Randy L. Morse8/1
55Frosted Departure (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateFlavien Prat122Kenneth G. McPeek9/2
66Carmel Road (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJohn R. Velazquez117Bob Baffert3/1
77Rocking Rocket (KY)Reylu Gutierrez117D. Wayne Lukas12/1