By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
On Monday, Oaklawn Park will host the second of their four official Kentucky Derby prep races, that being the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (gr. III). The 8.5-furlong race has drawn a very deep field of twelve, although one colt—LeComte Stakes (gr. III) runner-up War Story—is expected to scratch. With so many talented horses entered in the Southwest, it’s going to take a while to analyze the race, so without further ado, let’s take a look at the entries!
||J S Bach
||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
||1st Smarty Jones Stakes (VIDEO)|
||4th Smarty Jones Stakes (VIDEO)|
||2nd Smarty Jones Stakes (VIDEO)|
||The Truth or Else
||6th Remsen Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
||Donnie K. Von Hemel
||2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
||D. Wayne Lukas
||5th Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
||3rd Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||D. Wayne Lukas
||3rd Smarty Jones Stakes (VIDEO)|
|War Story (scratched) |Joe Talamo
||2nd LeComte Stakes (gr. III)|
In the Smarty Jones Stakes, a major prep for the Southwest, I really liked the chances of Far Right, and I like his chances again today. In the Smarty Jones, Far Right dropped back to last early on and was stopped behind horses when rallying along the rail, yet managed to re-accelerate when free of traffic to win going away by 1 ¾ lengths. All told, it was an eye-catching performance, and the additional sixteenth of a mile in the Southwest should only help his chances.
However, I do have a couple of concerns. For one, Far Right took advantage of a fairly quick pace in the Smarty Jones, as the first half-mile was run in :46.92 and the last half-mile in :51.51. Also, as a stakes winner, Far Right will be carrying 122 pounds on Saturday, five more than he carried in the Smarty Jones, and will be conceding between three and seven pounds to his ten rivals.
But perhaps the biggest concern regarding Far Right’s chances is the fact that Smarty Jones favorite Mr. Z would have almost undoubtedly won that race if he hadn’t ducked out sharply in the homestretch, blowing a large lead and allowing Far Right to rally for victory. Since that race, Mr. Z—who has placed in six graded stakes races without winning—has turned in a trio of workouts without any drifting or ducking issues, so assuming his issues are behind him, I think Mr. Z will be able to turn the tables on Far Right this time around.
But even if Mr. Z defeats Far Right, will he win the Southwest? That is a more difficult question. Although Mr. Z is very talented, it’s hard to overlook the fact that he has won just once in nine starts while losing more than his fair share of photo finishes. Keeping this in mind, I’m going to try and beat Mr. Z for the top spot, even though I think he is an excellent candidate for the exotics and possesses the talent to win this race.
The third choice on the morning line is Todd Pletcher’s J S Bach, a Florida-bred son of Tale of the Cat that drew the rail. The colt finished second in his debut sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at Gulfstream against fellow Florida-breds, then stretched out to a mile and a sixteenth and scored a decisive 8 ½-length victory. But while his victory was an impressive one, it also came with the aid of a slow pace—he led throughout while setting fractions of :47.90 and 1:12.52—over a Gulfstream main track that tends to favor front-runners. Having drawn the rail, it seems likely that J S Bach will be sent to the lead, but there will be plenty of talented horses in close pursuit, and I think J S Bach will find the waters a bit deep in his first start against winners.
One horse that I really like is Bold Conquest, a son of Curlin that will be making his seasonal debut. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Bold Conquest compiled an excellent record as a juvenile, breaking his maiden second-time out at Saratoga before finishing second by a head in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) and third in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I). In the Iroquois, Bold Conquest raced wide every step of the way and would surely have won with a better trip, while in the Breeders’ Futurity, Bold Conquest had to wait behind horses at a critical moment on the far turn, which left him with too much ground to make up in the homestretch. Despite this obstacle, Bold Conquest did put in a nice late run to secure the show, and likely would have finished closer to runner-up Mr. Z (who beat Bold Conquest by 5 ¾ lengths) with a better trip. In preparation for the Southwest, Bold Conquest has turned in a long string of solid workouts, including a pair of bullet five-furlong works at Fair Grounds on January 30th and February 5th. As a son of Curlin, Bold Conquest should only get better as he gets older, and if he can work out a good trip from post nine, I believe Bold Conquest is capable of pulling off the upset at a solid price. If he stays anywhere near his morning line price of 12-1, I think that’s excellent value.
If you’re in the mood to try an extreme longshot, I would give Phenomenal Phoenix a look. Trained by Donnie Von Hemel, Phenomenal Phoenix was good enough to finish fourth in the Remington Springboard Mile last December, and ran a strong race last time out to finish second in an 8.5-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park. In that race, Phenomenal Phoenix settled in seventh early on before sweeping past horses on the far outside to take command of the lead at the top of the stretch. He looked like a winner, but was passed in deep stretch by Instant Replay, who rallied late to win by a length in a solid performance. Phenomenal Phoenix will race with blinkers in the Southwest, which could help him be a bit more forwardly placed, and if the pace is quick, I can envision him rallying to get involved for the exotics at around 30-1.
I would also like to briefly mention a few other horses as well. Bayerd is a very talented colt that finished second in the Smarty Jones, but I think he’s better as a sprinter/miler and will find the distance of the Southwest to be a bit long. Kantune broke his maiden impressively last time out at Oaklawn after finishing third behind Prospect Park and Cyrus Alexander in a Santa Anita maiden race, and figures to work out a very nice trip stalking J S Bach early on. I like his chances of hitting the board. The Truth or Else disappointed in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) while racing wide over a rail-favoring track, but previously finished third in both the Futurity Stakes (gr. II) and Champagne Stakes (gr. I) while running against the likes of Blofeld, El Kabeir, Daredevil, and Upstart. With Calvin Borel in the saddle, there’s a good chance that The Truth or Else will work out a nice ground-saving trip, and he could show improvement while running on Lasix for the first time. He’s definitely one to consider at 20-1. Private Prospect finished fourth in the Smarty Jones off a bit of a layoff and was just a length behind Bayerd, so if you like Bayerd, you might want to give this colt a look as well.
So to tie it all together, Bold Conquest is my selection to win, with Mr. Z to round out the exacta. For the trifecta and superfecta, I like Far Right, Kantune, and The Truth or Else, with Phenomenal Phoenix being a potential longshot for third or fourth at a giant price.
Who do you like in the Southwest Stakes?
In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!