Trainer Kenny McPeek had to scratch Tiz the Bomb, the 3-1 morning line favorite in Saturday’s 95th running of the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade II) because of a minor ailment, but Plan B worked out just fine as the McPeek-trained Smile Happy rolled to an eye-catching 3 ¼-length victory over 7-5 post time favorite Classic Causeway.
Smile Happy, owned by Michael J. Mackin’s Lucky Seven Stable, clocked 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:43.94, earned $234,410 and collected 10 points as part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve” series, which offered points on a scale of 10-4-2-1 to the Top 4 finishers as a “Prep Season” race.
Corey Lanerie rode the winner for McPeek, who saddled four winners on the 12-race “Stars of Tomorrow II” program. Lanerie rode three of McPeek’s winners.
“I’m mad we didn’t win the Golden Rod (with Sandstone),” McPeek quipped. “This is really a team effort and I want to give a lot of credit to our team behind these horses. I’m really proud of the horse and thankful the Mackin Family gave us this horse to train. He’s been very impressive to start his career.”
Smile Happy paid $11.60, $4.60 and $3.60 as the 9-2 third betting choice. Classic Causeway, under Joel Rosario, paid $3.40 and $2.80. Florida invader White Abarrio was another 2 ¾ lengths back in third and returned $4 to show at odds of 6-1 with Edgard Zayas aboard.
It was another half-length back to Ben Diesel in fourth, who was followed by Howling Time, Vivar, Call Me Midnight, Red Knobs, Guntown, Texas Red Hot and Ready Pursuit. Rich Strike and Tiz the Bomb were scratched.
McPeek withdrew Tiz the Bomb, the runner-up to Modern Games (IRE) in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) runner-up, after his left front became inflamed from what appeared to be an infection.
Howling Time, the 2-1 second choice after a 3 ¼-length win in the $200,000 Street Sense on Oct. 31, led the field of 11 two-year-olds through comfortable early splits of :23.95, :48.74 and 1:13.25 as Smile Happy relaxed in fifth from the outside and moved within a length of the leader on the final turn.
Leaving the last turn, it was four in a line from the inside out: Howling Time, Ben Diesel, Classic Causeway and Smile Happy. Racing four-wide, Smile Happy kicked clear with three-sixteenths of a mile to run and extended his lead down the stretch for a powerful win.
“You’d think this horse ran 10 times already with how mature he acts,” Lanerie said. “He’s very ratable and easy to ride. I felt very confident with him at the half-mile pole. I could tell I had a lot of horse beneath me. I got him into the right spot and he really kicked clear in the stretch. He’s got a bright future.”
Overall, Smile Happy has a perfect record of two wins in two starts and earnings of $284,810. Previously, Smile Happy won his debut at Keeneland over 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 29 by 5 ½ lengths.
Smile Happy now has 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard that will determine the preference list for the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby (GI) on May 7.
“We’ll probably take it easy with him in December and January and start deciding his future in February.” said McPeek, who also won the 2001 Kentucky Jockey Club with Repent. “At this stage we have a lot of options on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. It’s a good problem to have.”
Smile Happy, a son of Runhappy out of the Pleasant Tap mare Pleasant Smile, was bred in Kentucky by Moreau Bloodstock Int’l Inc. and White Bloodstock LLC.
The Kentucky Jockey Club is named in honor of the holding company that operated Churchill Downs at the time of the race’s inaugural running in 1920. In recent years, the Kentucky Jockey Club produced Kentucky Derby winners in WinStar Farm’s Super Saver, who won both races for trainer Todd Pletcher in 2009 and ’10, and Mike Pegram’s Real Quiet, the runner-up in the 1997 Kentucky Jockey Club who returned to win the Derby the following spring.
Racing at Churchill Downs continues Sunday at 1 p.m. ET with a 12-race card for closing day of the Fall Meet. There will be a mandatory payout in the 20-cent Derby City 6 (Races 7-12), which features a carryover of $224,263.
KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB QUOTES
Corey Lanerie, jockey of SMILE HAPPY (winner): “You’d think this horse ran 10 times already with how mature he acts. He’s very ratable and easy to ride. I felt very confident with him at the half-mile pole. I could tell I had a lot of horse beneath me. I got him into the right spot and he really kicked clear in the stretch. He’s got a bright future.”
Kenny McPeek, trainer of SMILE HAPPY (winner): “This is really a team effort and I want to give a lot of credit to our team behind these horses. I’m really proud of the horse and thankful the Mackin Family gave us this horse to train. He’s been very impressive to start his career. We’ll probably take it easy with him in December and January and start deciding his future in February. At this stage we have a lot of options on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. It’s a good problem to have.”
Joel Rosario, jockey of CLASSIC CAUSEWAY (runner-up): “He rated really well today. I thought he ran a good effort he was second best tonight.”
Brian Lynch, trainer of CLASSIC CAUSEWAY (runner-up): “We’ll live to fight another day. I think he’ll get a lot out of this race. He rated well and ran well. We’re proud of how he ran and we’ll be back down the road.”
Edgard Zayas, jockey of WHITE ABARRIO (third): “He got out of the gate and was in a good spot. He ran well.”