Oaklawn serves as a good start on road to Derby

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Larry Jones might have one of the top Kentucky Derby hopefuls this year, and he's set to bring his horse to Arkansas.

"It's a good spot to get 'em started and go," said Jones, who trains undefeated Old Fashioned. "They always seem like they come out of there and do well."

In recent years, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Curlin have come through Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs before going on to success in Triple Crown races.

Snuck in the Dance's victory Friday started off the live racing season, a sure sign that the Run for the Roses isn't far off.

Old Fashioned last raced in November in the Remsen and won by 7¼ lengths. The horse is in Louisiana now. Jones says the plan is to bring him to Oaklawn around the end of the month.

Once in Arkansas, he would be able to race in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 16. That's the first big prep race for 3-year-olds at the track. The others are the Rebel on March 14 and the Arkansas Derby on April 11, Oaklawn's final day of live racing.

Last year's Arkansas Derby winner, Gayego, wasn't a factor in the Triple Crown races. The year before, however, Curlin won at Oaklawn toward the beginning of a campaign that earned him Horse of the Year honors.

"The focus of our season is the 3-year-old racing," said David Longinotti, Oaklawn's assistant general manager. "It's kind of the focus of the racing world as horses prepare for the Kentucky Derby, and we think this is the best place in the country to do that."

Although some other tracks have synthetic surfaces, Oaklawn still has a dirt track. Longinotti says familiarity with the surface is a benefit.

"We have a pretty good idea, from our experience of dealing with our surface, of how (the track will react to) weather," Longinotti said. "I would hate to be dealing with the kind of overnight temperatures we get here sometimes, on a surface that you didn't know how it was going to react."