Kentucky Derby Road Stops at Oaklawn on President’s Day Holiday

by Margaret Ransom

Monday marks the 54th running of the Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, the traditional prep for the Rebel Stakes (GII) in a month and also the Arkansas Derby (GI), which will be contested on April 13 this year. Though, so far through 53 previous years, only Smarty Jones in 2004 made it to the coveted Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby winner’s circle, a lot of other good horses have won the Southwest, some making the gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May and some just going on to exceptional racing careers.

The well-traveled and speedy New Mexico-based Bold Ego won this race in 1981 and, though well-beaten in the Derby, he did manage to earn a second-place finish in that year’s Preakness. Demons Begone won this race, the Rebel Stakes (GII) and Arkansas Derby (GI) in 1987 and was the favorite on the first Saturday in May before bleeding so profusely jockey Pat Day had to pull him up.

Champion Smoke Glacken was a Southwest winner before distance limitations kept him sprinting, which earned him an Eclipse Award as that year’s best runner around one turn. Some other notable Southwest winners include Lawyer Ron, Old Fashioned, Secret Circle and My Boy Jack a year ago.

John Ed Anthony’s Loblolly Stable, which was shuttered in 1994, remains the leading owner with three wins here and the late trainer Bob Holthus saddled five winners over his spectacular career. Two jockeys — the late Larry Snyder (in whose name the Oaklawn winner’s circle is dedicated) and Rafael Bejarano — each won three, the latter winning twice in 2012 when the race was split due to overflow entries.

This year, a field of 11 has been set for the 1 1/16-mile race, which offers $500,000 and ten points to the winner, and it has been carded as the ninth on the day with a post time of 5:09 p.m. CT. Though the rain will have receded by Monday, the temperature will remain chilly under mostly cloudy skies in Hot Springs. Expect highs in the mid- to upper-40s all day.

The Southwest Field:

Gray Attempt – The Smarty Jones Stakes winner is riding a three-race win streak and, though he tries this distance for the first time, he’s been progressing with each start. His innermost post isn’t ideal, but he’ll be sending for sure to his familiar spot on the lead. Jinks Fires saddled Archarcharch to win this race in 2011 and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has yet to win a Southwest.

Ninth Street – This is the first of Steve Asmussen’s five runners here and this son of Street Boss ships in off a second in a stakes at Delta Downs five weeks ago. Asmussen has two previous wins here (Private Emblem, 2002; Tapiture, 2014) and jockey David Cabrera seeks his first Southwest victory aboard the Jean Laffite Futurity winner.

Cutting Humor – Ironically, trainer Todd Pletcher’s only winner in the Southwest so far was horse named One Liner in 2017. Back with this $400,000 son of First Samurai, he gets the services of Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who was also aboard One Liner. This is this colt’s first stakes attempt.

Boldor – Another from Asmussen, this $700,000 son of Munnings returns off a third in the Smarty Jones last out. He so far only has a maiden win to his credit.

Jersey Agenda – Asmussen again, this one will be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., who was aboard Tapiture in 2014. This $250,000 son of Jersey Town makes his stakes debut after winning his last two in maiden and allowance company at Churchill and here. Trainer and jockey have been winning at a 23 percent clip recently.

Super Steed – This son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver has struggled in two stakes races since breaking his maiden in allowance company back in late November. Trainer Larry Jones saddled Old Fashioned to win here in 2009, while jockey Terry Thompson has two wins, in 2001 with Son of Rocket and 2003 aboard Great Notion.

Sueno – was second behind the highly regarded Gunmetal Grey in the Sham Stakes (GIII) early last month. Trainer Keith Desormeaux is never afraid of taking a shot with any of his horses and it proved profitable a year ago (My Boy Jack) and, this year, rolls the dice with this $61,000 son of Atreides, who won the Gold Rush Stakes two back over the all-weather. Jockey Corey Lanerie has yet to win a Southwest.

Six Shooter – is the most seasoned of the bunch with eight career starts. This stakes-winning son of Trappe Shot is conditioned by leading trainer Holthus’ son, Paul. A former claimer, he was fourth last out in the Smarty Jones after a strange effort, which may explain the blinkers he’ll wear for the first time today. Stewart Elliott, who famously piloted Smarty Jones, rides this one, and he also was aboard Teuflesberg in 2007.

Bankit – Runner number four for Asmussen, he was sixth as the favorite in the Smarty Jones Stakes after an unusually flat effort, though as a need-the-lead type the poor break didn’t help him. The New York-bred son of Central Banker has been working well since his last and, if he gets to the front from the break, he’ll be tough to run down. Jose Ortiz ships in for the mount.

Long Range Toddy – made a nice bid and just fell short to Gray Attempt in the Smarty Jones last out and is back as Asmussen’s fifth runner. The Willis Horton homebred son of Take Charge Indy is bred for more ground, so he should like the extra distance here. Jockey Edward Eramia has yet to win the Southwest.

Olympic Runner – This $180,000 son of Gio Ponti returns to the main track after breaking his maiden in an off-the-turf event at Gulfstream for trainer Mark Casse three weeks ago at this distance. Casse, as well as jockey David Cohen, have yet to win this race.

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