Years and years ago, legendary trainer Woody Stephens managed a very ambitious career for a horse named Smarten. In only two seasons, the son of Cyane won 11 times with 8 seconds out of 27 races. What’s more, the Maryland-bred racked up stakes wins, and he did it everywhere. At his peak, he won six consecutive stakes races at six different racetracks.
The likes of his campaign likely will never be seen again, but a modern-day version of Smarten is emerging. His name is Sleepy Eyes Todd.
In this day and age, the son of Paddy O’Prado will never race with the frequency of horses of the past such as Smarten. But much like the example from more than four decades ago, he is racking up stakes wins, and he’s doing it all over the place.
Riding two straight stakes wins, the barnstormer will face his most ambitious test yet when he lines up for the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational a week from Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The Grade 1, nine-furlong test on Jan. 23 could be the overdue coming out party for a horse who, to date, has received very little national attention.
Campaigning for owner David Cobb’s Thumbs Up Racing and trainer Miguel Silva, Sleepy Eyes Todd rallied impressively to get up late in his career debut at Remington Park in Oklahoma. It turned out to be his only start as a juvenile, but despite being purchased for only $9,000 as a weanling, it was enough to make his next start in a Kentucky Derby prep.
He could manage only a middle-of-the-pack finish in the 2018 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, although only beaten just over two lengths in his second career start. Next he finished a game second — although he was disqualified and placed fifth — behind a future stakes winner. The bargain-basement colt looked to have a bright future, but a bump in the road ended any thoughts of a Kentucky Derby run.
After a layoff of about five months, Sleepy Eyes Todd returned to the races up north in Minnesota, where he reeled off back-to-back allowance wins at Canterbury Park. Now 3-for-5, it was enough for his connections to return the versatile runner to graded stakes racing. He came back at Remington Park, where he again showed toughness and a fighting spirit before running second to Owendale in the Oklahoma Derby (G3).
Toughness has been a consistent quality for Sleepy Eyes Todd. No matter the track, rider or where he is in the early stages of races, he tries hard.
With his class verified by his very good run in the Oklahoma Derby, his connections set sail on a campaign that harkens back to a different age of racing, back when good horses traveled the nation to run in stakes races where they fit.
Beginning with another game effort to win the Jeffrey A. Hawk Memorial Stakes at Remington Park on Dec. 15, 2019, Sleepy Eyes Todd embarked on a magical mystery tour that would make even Smarten proud.
The long and the short of it includes four stakes wins in nine races spanning just over 12 months. Digging a little deeper, though, reveals why this horse should be recognized among America’s elite.
In those nine races, he raced at nine racetracks in eight states. From Oklahoma to South Florida, and from Nebraska to Southern California, this horse has seen it all.
While the horse has traveled, his rider has not. Sleepy Eyes Todd has been ridden by nine different jockeys in those nine races. It’s almost unheard of for a horse this good to have a different rider in every race, but it is further evidence to the class and versatility of this horse.
He is versatile enough to romp by more than seven lengths in the $600,000 Charles Town Classic (G2) at 1 1/8 miles, and to get the best of the top sprinter Firenze Fire going 7 furlongs in the Mr. Prospector (G3) last time at Gulfstream Park.
That win was his second consecutive impressive victory sprinting, having previously beaten a graded-stakes-quality field going away in the seven-furlong Lafayette Stakes on Breeders’ Cup weekend at Keeneland. He will need to stretch back out for the nine-furlong Pegasus.
As a son of Paddy O’Prado, it should be no surprise that Sleepy Eyes Todd would be a tough and versatile runner. His sire was good enough on dirt to be competitive in both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he was even better on the grass, having won five graded stakes on the green.
Unfortunately, Paddy O’Prado died prematurely in 2018, but in Sleepy Eyes Todd he has a son who is developing into one of American racing’s top horses.
Now 8-of-15 lifetime, the more-than-well-traveled horse, once purchased for only $9,000, will have the opportunity for a huge score in the Pegasus. Win or lose next Saturday, Sleepy Eyes Todd is one of the best stories we have going right now in racing.