We've already visited the Big Easy and the City by the Bay this weekend -- but with Presidents' Day on Monday, the Derby trail winds to Oaklawn Park for the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, the second of four preps during this winter's Hot Springs meet. Though the Kentucky Derby points haul isn't huge -- it's the final 10-4-2-1 -- the $500,000 purse is massive for a Grade 3.
The Southwest Stakes will be run for the fifty-third time this year. The race was run in 1959, 1962, and then every year from 1968 to the present day. Originally a sprint, the race was extended to a mile in 1984, and then to its current 1 1/16 mile distance in 2013. The first year in which it was a key Derby prep was 1992: though 17/1 D. Wayne Lukas bomb Big Sur wired the field that day, second-place Pine Bluff won the Preakness, and third-place Lil E. Tee took home the roses on the first Saturday in May. Lil E. Tee went on to sire another Southwest Stakes winner: Jim'smrtee, who prevailed as a 52/1 outsider in 1999. In 2004, Smarty Jones won the Southwest Stakes on his way to sweeping the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby, and then winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
Smarty Jones holds in the 2004 Southwest Stakes, beginning his sweep of the Oaklawn prep series.
Of local interest, one Illinois-bred has won the Southwest Stakes: Clever Allemont, who won the 1985 running of the Southwest and returned to annex the Rebel as well. Clever Allemont went on to hit the board in three graded stakes in Illinois later that year. He was third in the Sheridan Stakes (G2) and the Arlington Classic (G1) at Arlington Park that June, and then went downstate and finished third in the Fairmount Park Derby (G3) the next month.
Morning lines not available at original publish time.
Monday, February 19 -- Oaklawn Park
Race 9: Southwest Stakes (G3), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:10pm CST
The Southwest drew a field of eleven, though only ten are expected to turn up, as cross-entered PRINCIPE GUILHERME opted to stay home for the Risen Star instead.
The rubber meets the road here for MOURINHO. He won the Smarty Jones as easily as he wanted on the front end. But? COMBATANT was about the fastest front-end force he had to deal with in that spot. Here, MOURINHO has a few other, faster foes he will have to fend off early: EZMOSH and SPORTING CHANCE. If they take a step forward, perhaps front-enders ROAD TO DAMASCUS and RETIREMENT FUND could also help make things quite feisty. He is the one to beat on class and on connections, and his Bob Hope outing suggests he may be able to come from a little bit off the pace. With as good as speed (and Baffert) can be at Oaklawn, you have to use MOURINHO at least defensively. But, without having proven that he can finish on top while either setting a pace as torrid at this race's looks to be or by rallying from off the pace, it is worth looking for credible alternatives if they exist.
MY BOY JACK intrigues here, and we'll go for the upset with him. He comes second off the lay. Though he needs a step forward from his first-race back, a well-beaten second behind McKinzie in the Sham (G3), he has reasons to improve here. MY BOY JACK should get a more contested pace to run at here than last out, and his best late pace showings (including last out, one of only two career starts he has made on dirt) give him a great shot to run best late. The barn also gives some confidence; trainer Keith Desormeaux has a small positive ROI with horses second off the lay, and he surprised many folks when his three-year-old prep shipper Sonneteer was second in the Rebel at Oaklawn last year. From a pedigree perspective, too, MY BOY JACK checks the right boxes: his breeding suggests the stretch from a mile to a mile and a sixteenth will suit.
Don't expect the 15/1 morning line to hold on ROAD TO DAMASCUS; do figure that the Todd Pletcher trainee has a solid shot here. He does get a test here, as he faces winners for the first time. But, the son of Pioneerof the Nile took a nice step forward from his debut to his second start out, on the stretch out to two turns for the first time. And, though ROAD TO DAMASCUS will be forward, he was able to come from a stalking spot last time out and also fight late: a positive with several others likely to want to be right up on the front. If ROAD TO DAMASCUS moves forward again here, he should be in the frame from flag fall to that's all.
#1 MY BOY JACK (12/1)
#4 MOURINHO (2/1)
#5 ROAD TO DAMASCUS (15/1)
Longshot: Trainer Steve Asmussen has a pair in the Southwest, after the scratch of Principe Guilherme. RETIREMENT FUND has gotten most of the chatter, but will have to prove he can hang with MOURINHO on or near the lead. However, #8 ZING ZANG (15/1) has more seasoning and a likely better setup. It took the son of Tapit three starts to graduate, but he did so in a maiden special weight at Fair Grounds, rallying from near the rear to win by daylight. He then notched right up into stakes company, closing late for fourth behind Instilled Regard in the Lecomte (G3). Both of those efforts came over two turns on dirt, and both of those featured sharp late runs. ZING ZANG gets Corey Lanerie in the irons, who rode during his maiden win, and he should have no problem with the slight stretch out from a mile and seventy yards to a mile and a sixteenth. He will need to move forward here, but with the right setup and the right connections, ZING ZANG can at least invade the exotics at attractive odds.
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