Catching Freedom Exerts His Independence in Smarty Jones

January 2, 2024

Catching Freedom winning the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Jan. 1, 2024. (Coady Photography)

by Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Catching Freedom used an explosive late kick to post a 2 ½-length victory in Oaklawn’s $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds Monday.

Catching Freedom collected 10 points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby with the victory. The Smarty Jones offered 21 total qualifying points (10-5-3-2-1, respectively) to the top five finishers.

Cristian Torres rode Catching Freedom, the 8-5 favorite, for trainer Brad Cox and Iowa-based Albaugh Family Stables (Dennis Albaugh and son-in-law Jason Loutsch). Cox and Albaugh Family Stables teamed to win the $1.25 million G1-Arkansas Derby last April with Angel of Empire.

Just Steel finished second in the Smarty Jones, a neck ahead of Informed Patriot. Gettysburg Address, another neck farther back in fourth, was followed, in order, by Mystik Dan, Lagynos, Mo Winning, Chaperone and Fidget. The top seven finishers were separated by 4 ½ lengths.

Catching Freedom ($5.40) finished the 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:44.59. The Smarty Jones was extended to 8 ½-furlongs in 2024 after being run at one-mile since its inception in 2008.

A son of Constitution, Catching Freedom raised his career earnings to $237,350 following his second victory from three starts. Catching Freedom was a $575,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase.

Racing resumes Friday at 12:30 p.m. (Central).

Smarty Jones Quotes

Winning jockey Cristian Torres/Catching Freedom: “He’s a nice horse. In his two races, he’s a horse that hasn’t shown much early speed. He just runs them down at the end. We were able to have great trip. I saved all the ground the first part of the race. As soon as I got him out, he accelerated like he always does.”

Winning trainer Brad Cox (via phone): “Very proud of the horse. I think he’s still learning. I think he was a little green there down the lane, but overall showed that he does have a lot of stamina and talent. I thought he stepped up and ran well against a solid group of 3-year-olds.”

Second-place jockey Ramon Vazquez/Just Steel: “He ran a great race. I think he got just a little tired the last sixteenth. The trainer (D. Wayne Lukas) told me he was going to be a little bit short. He tried hard. He’s going to be a good horse.”

Second-place trainer D. Wayne Lukas: “Might have been a little bit short. I thought he ran very well. The one thing about it, it’s a four-race series before you get to the Derby, so you’ve got to be a little bit careful.”

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