President’s Day often means a day off school for the kids and a great sale on a mattress. As it’s a Monday, it’s often taken as part of a three-day weekend. Picks & Ponderings tackled the racing at the start of the weekend with Paul Mazur looking at the G3 El Camino Real Derby from Golden Gate Fields for Derby-aiming sophomores. Picks & Ponderings also has Nicolle Neulist looking at the stakes on Festival Preview Day from Tampa Bay Downs. She also profiles the locals in action on Saturday at Tampa Bay.
This piece looks at the feature of the President’s Day card at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, the Grade Three Southwest Stakes. A half million dollars of purse funds and a 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby point allotment are on the line in the middle prep of Oaklawn’s series of feeders that culminate on closing day’s G1 Arkansas Derby. The G3 Southwest Stakes takes its name from the defunct Southwest Conference that the University of Arkansas (along with the University of Texas) resided in for their NCAA athletic programs. The Southwest Stakes came to life on a regular basis in 1968 (after two one-off runnings in 1959 and 962) as a sprint race and went to two turns in 1983, being run at a short-stretch mile. The race was stretched out to a mile and a sixteenth in 2013. The race has been split in divisions three times (most recently in 2012). Only one horse has parlayed a victory in the Southwest Stakes into an Arkansas Derby triumph – Smarty Jones (2004), who swept the Southwest-Rebel-Arkansas Derby series that year. Additional winners of note include Illinois-bred Clever Allemont (1985), champion sprinter Smoke Glacken (1997).
Smarty Jones starts his Oaklawn prep sweep in the 2004 Southwest Stakes. Video courtesy Youtube.
Morning line odds for this race, scheduled for Monday February 15th, were not originally available at publish time. Updated on February 13th to include morning lines and program numbers.
Oaklawn Park — Race 9 — G3 Southwest Stakes — One and one-sixteenth Miles — post time 5:09 pm CT
As it seems the speed is concentrated on the inside, it’s possible that a ground-saving trip from a inner-to-middle post is what takes the Southwest Stakes. Perhaps SYNCHRONY is in the catbird seat at the top of the lane. The “other” from the Donnie Von Hemel shederow in the field with SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS as the primary runner, he gets out-of-towner Shaun Bridgmohan as assigned rider. It should be noted that SYNCHRONY and SUDDENBREAKING NEWS are a coupled entry; this space prefers SYNCHRONY’s inside draw. His first stakes try saw him close at the closer-unfriendly mile distance with its short stretch over the local oval in the Smarty Jones stakes. SYNCHRONY’s pedigree (by Tapit out of a Brownie Points mare) indicates that a mile and a sixteeenth should be easily attainable for this hombred. It’s worth noting that Von Hemel conditioned Brownie Points back in the day – so there’s familiarity in this runner. The Smarty Jones was the first try around two turns, and if he can bring the closing kick he demonstrated two back at Churchill, that will be an asset against forward types like COLLECTED and AMERICAN DUBAI that reside closer to the paint. The connections behind last year’s Southwest winner are back this year with WHITMORE. Mike Smith has been lured to give up mounts on the Santa Anita card to make the trip to Hot Springs on this runner. A winner last time in a first-level allowance, he was close to the pace two back in the G3 Delta Jackpot and went in neutral turning for home. Worth noting the second-place finisher of the Jackpot took the Withers. WHITMORE may be the buzz runner that many are anticipating, but it’s worth noting he’s never been two turns on a dry oval. His last race victory was at six panels. He deserves another chance on dry dirt to strut his stuff, but the chatter on him makes him one to use defensively. Von Hemel’s go-to rider in his Midwest excursions is Luis Quinonez, and he’s got the mount on SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS. He’s stuck way out in post thirteen and the draw does him no favors. However, he won the Clevor Trevor two back at Remington and was in the photo with DISCREETNESS, the same DISCREETNESS that won the Smarty Jones. Five career starts for SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS are on the resume, and all five have been top two finishes. The same pace scenario that helps stablemate SYNCRONY helps SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, but the post is why SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS is demoted.
#2 SYNCHRONY (6/1) (part of entry)
#4 WHITMORE (5/1)
#2X SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (6/1) (part of entry)
Longshot: Inside posts giveth, outside posts taketh. #9 CUTACORNER (12/1) had an icky outside draw two back in the Springboard Mile and was still closing in the lane to be fourth at 87-1 in that frosh event at Remington. Three back he graduated going a two-turn mile at Remington and last time cleared the a-other-than condition going two turns at Oaklawn. The win last time came at the race’s mile and a sixteenth distance, as well. CUTACORNER, with Quincy Hamilton named to ride, has a sneaky good distance sire in Even The Score, who begat ten-furlong winners Dullahan and Take The Points. In short, the distance is a non-issue. CUTACORNER may also have been compromised by the wet track two back, as both his two-turn victories were on dry ovals. Watch the skies with this longshot from the Jack Van Berg barn that appears to want it dry.
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