(Just Steel / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the Oaklawn Park Media Team:

After flopping in his first start around two turns, Just Steel apparently will have a chance to make amends next month at Oaklawn.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Monday morning that Just Steel is targeting the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds Jan. 1. The Smarty Jones is Oaklawn’s first of four points races for the Kentucky Derby.

From the second crop of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, Just Steel broke his maiden by a nose Aug. 5 at Saratoga and was a 2 ½-length winner of the $225,000 Ed Brown Stakes Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs in his last start. Sandwiched around those sprint victories were three consecutive losses, including a sixth in the $600,000 Breeders’ Futurity Stakes (G1) at 8 ½-furlongs Oct. 7 at Keeneland.

Just Steel, who held the lead approaching the top of the stretch, was beaten 16 lengths in his two-turn debut. The Ed Brown was 6 ½ furlongs.

“He kind of came to life the last race, winning that little stake, which helped us because he’s had a couple of trips where I don’t think he learned much,” Lukas said. “He got his act together very well. The thing I loved about his last race was the way he extended his stride on the far turn. He was running along and all of a sudden, he extended it about 3 feet per jump. I need that because I’m hoping he’s a two-turn horse.”

Just Steel was purchased for $500,000 by owners John Bellinger and Brian Coelho (BC Stables LLC) at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Just Steel has already recouped roughly half that investment with a 2-1-1 record from seven starts and $240,795 in earnings.

“We’ll give him a chance to be a good horse,” Lukas said. “We’ll treat him like a stake horse and let him disappoint us. I think we’ll probably go to the Smarty Jones.”

The Smarty Jones has been extended to 1 1/16-miles in 2024 after being run at one mile since its inception in 2008. It will offer 21 total points (10-5-3-2-1, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

Hart to Hart
Trainer Chris Hartman is poised to surpass $5 million in yearly purse earnings for the first time with seven horses entered for Oaklawn’s opening two days of racing.

All the races Friday and Saturday are maiden special weight, allowance, or stakes events. Each is worth at least $115,000.

Hartman’s contingent is headed by millionaires Tejano Twist and Necker Island in Saturday’s $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 6 furlongs. Tejano Twist was among Oaklawn’s top older male sprinters last season, winning an allowance race and the $200,000 G3-Whitmore Stakes.

Tejano Twist helped Hartman establish single-season Oaklawn personal bests for victories (37) and purse earnings ($2,408,410) in 2022-2023. Hartman entered Tuesday with $4,975,078 in purse earnings overall this year, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. His previous high ($4,275,306) occurred in 2022.

“We’ve had a great year, period, actually,” Hartman, Oaklawn’s third-leading trainer last season, said Monday morning. “It’s been a career year, so we’re trying to round up better horses.”

Hartman has approximately 40 horses at Oaklawn. In addition to Tejano Twist and Necker Island, he has another top older male sprinter in Edge to Edge, who won two allowance races last season at Oaklawn before finishing third in the Whitmore. Hartman is scheduled to start Andy’s Candy in Friday’s $150,000 Advent Stakes for 2-year-old sprinters and has a promising 3-year-old filly in Red River Magic, a recent blowout maiden winner at Churchill Downs. Condensation, a more established 3-year-old filly, also returns. She finished second in the $300,000 G3-Honeybee Stakes last season at Oaklawn.

“I think we’re pretty balanced,” Hartman said. “Got the right mixture of horses, I think. We’ll see how it stands up.”

Red River Magic, from the first crop of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, broke her maiden by 11 lengths Nov. 23. The one-mile race marked her fourth career start.

“We don’t know where we sit in the big scheme of things, but we are high on her,” Hartman said.
Hartman was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015 and has 222 career Oaklawn victories in Hot Springs.

Finish Lines

First post for Oaklawn’s opening-day program Friday is 12:30 p.m. (Central). … There were 121 horses entered for Saturday’s 10-race card. … Two-time Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox enters the 2023-2024 meet with 289 career Oaklawn victories. Only 15 trainers have reached 300 career victories at Oaklawn.