The Triple Crown trail running through Arkansas officially gets underway Monday with the 52nd running of the Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, the traditional prep for the Rebel Stakes (GII), which is on March 18 this year and, eventually, Arkansas Derby (GI), which has been set for April 15. Though, so far, through 51 previous runnings, only Smarty Jones in 2004 made it to the coveted Churchill Downs winner’s circle reserved for the Kentucky Derby (GI) hero, many other good horses have won the Southwest and still made the gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
This year, a field of 13 was drawn for the 1 1/16-mile race, which carries a rich $500,000 pot, yet only 10 points awarded to the winner. The Hot Springs weather forecast calls for a high probability of afternoon rain/thunder showers and a high near 70, so it’s probably wise to handicap for an off track, just in case.
WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing’s One Liner makes his stakes debut after going undefeated in two previous starts against maiden and optional claiming company. The $150,000 son of Into Mischief ships in from Palm Beach Downs for trainer Todd Pletcher off a pair of pretty nice works, including a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on Monday. Though he’s never raced around two turns, he has some pedigree to back up at least getting this 8 ½ furlongs. He has some tactical ability, so it seems, which will help from his outside post position of 11 and Pletcher’s go-to rider John Velazquez will be in town to ride on the Monday holiday card. One Liner has improved with each start and may not need much to win here.
Uncontested will likely leave the gate as the favorite off his wire-to-wire score in the Smarty Jones Stakes over the track last time out. The Harry Rosenblum and Robert LaPenta colorbearer, who is trained by Wayne Catalano, is a confirmed front-runner and will almost certainly be part of the early pace scenario and he showed in his last race he can withstand some heated fractions and have enough left in the tank to hold on at the wire. Figuring out what his trip will be like isn’t rocket science, the only question is if he’s really this good or a one-race wonder. His figures indicate he belongs among the top choices, so we shall see.
Petrov was second to Uncontested in the Smarty Jones last out and could just not keep up after the winner controlled the race on the lead right from the break. The son of Flatter, who broke his maiden last fall at Churchill Downs, seems to be improving with each start and has the benefit of trainer Ron Moquett and jockey Jose Ortiz. He’s a stalker, but if he can keep up to the pace from the break he has a good shot to improve even further and potentially post the upset.
Cool Arrow, who will lead the field to post, will also be part of the pace scenario, especially from his position along the rail. He’s a two-time non-graded stakes winner at Remington Park and even has a couple of decent second-place finishes over Churchill Downs’ main track, so this early in the game it’s hard to gauge whether this Joe Sharp-trained son of Into Mischief belongs at this level, but he’s nothing if not consistent. This will be the colt’s first start of the year and he’s found a good spot, so it’s do or die for him if he expects to continue down the road toward the Kentucky Derby.
After finishing second to champion Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland last fall, Lookin at Lee didn’t look so bad for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) and while he didn’t hit the board that day, his fourth-place finish wasn’t awful. Now back after a brief winter freshening, the Steve Asmussen trainee faces the softest field he’s encountered since taking the Ellis Park Juvenile last summer. He’s been working great at Fair Grounds all winter and shipped in to post a nice half-mile over the Oaklawn Park surface on Monday and as a closer will benefit from what is expected to be a quick early pace in front of him. He has yet to win around two turns, but his pedigree suggests he should have little trouble handling this distance. He’ll need to bring his “A Game” to show he’s worthy of continuing on the Triple Crown trail.
Hence is Asmussen’s other runner and the Calumet Farm homebred son of Street Boss enters this race after breaking his maiden at this distance on the off track by three-quarters of a length last time out. It was a particularly nice effort in that he stumbled badly at the break and ducked in at the eighth pole and appeared beaten, before rallying to claim the win. He seems to finally be putting it all together in time and improving with each start and he’s shown some versatility to his running style, which will help depending on the pace and where his chief rivals are in the early stages. Give this one an extra long look.
Silver Dust makes his stakes and sophomore debut after breaking his maiden last out Nov. 20 by 3 ½ lengths. The Randy Morse-trained son of Tapit has been working great all winter and though already a winner at a mile, has the pedigree to improve as the distances get longer. Corey Lanerie will be back aboard the $510,000 OBS 2-year-old in training purchase.
Rowdy The Warrior is a useful little stakes performer making his graded debut for local connections, trainer Randy Morse and Luis Quinonez. His best asset in here is he’s a later-running, mid-pack type who will relish the early pace, but the biggest question mark is his ability beat the top choices. He was third last out in the Smarty Jones, but his running lines may say it all: “no match for top two.” His best, however, should earn him a larger share of the pot.
Warrior’s Club hails from the barn of Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who won this race last in 1992, and was fourth in the Smarty Jones last out. He’s certainly experienced making his ninth career start and hasn’t won in two stakes starts since breaking his maiden in a restricted black-type event at Churchill back in late October. We should all know better than to overlook a Lukas-trained runner, but this son of Warrior’s Reward may be in pretty deep.
Dilettante is the other Lukas-trained runner in here and the well-bred son of Unbridled’s Song, who sold for a surprising $7,000 at Fasig-Tipton a year and a half ago, will be facing winners for the first time after breaking his maiden in his eighth start over the Oaklawn Park main track last out. He’s bred to route and has only really turned in one bad performance. Hard to imagine he’ll win, but his best could put him in the hunt.
Chief Know It All broke his maiden by 10 lengths while sprinting at Indiana Downs last summer. Three third-place finishes followed before he won a non-winners of two lifetime allowance/optional claimer at a mile here last out. He’s got a bright future, but maybe against softer company than what is likely bound for the more difficult Triple Crown preps.
Former claimer P C Cowboy was second in an allowance race to Chief Know It All last time out and makes his stakes debut today. He’s another who looks to be improving with each start, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll improve enough in time to make a statement here.
Cu Rahy, who was well behind Chief Know It All in an allowance last out, hasn’t won since last summer and seems in tough against this bunch.
Post time for the Southwest, which has been carded as Monday’s ninth race, has been set for 5:09 p.m. CT.