Monday marks the 53rd 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) in April. Though only Smarty Jones in 2004 made it to the coveted Churchill Downs winner’s circle reserved for only one very special horse a year, many other good horses have won the Southwest and still made the gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
A field of 10 has been set for the 1 1/16-mile race, which carries a $500,000 purse and ten points for the winner to make the list of 20 in the Kentucky Derby (GI), including three from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen after Principe Guilherme raced in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at Fair Grounds Saturday.
The Hot Springs weather forecast calls for significantly warmer temperatures, but a high probability of rain and thunder showers and a high in the mid-70s, so it’s a good bet to handicap for an off track just in case.
Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ Mourinho returns to Arkansas from his home base of California for his first start since winning the Smarty Jones Stakes by 3 ¼ lengths a month ago. The Bob Baffert-trained son of 2010 Derby hero Super Saver had an easy trip last time in a very short field, but likely won’t have things his own way on the front end today. No matter, his connections say, as he doesn’t need the lead to be effective. His overall numbers say he’s been improving with each start and the extra sixteenth of a mile is well within his reach. He drew post four with speed on each side, so expect jockey Drayden Van Dyke to get a good stalking position early and reserving his mount’s best run for the stretch drive.
Sporting Chance, who won last year’s Hopeful Stakes (GI) before being sidelined with a knee chip, returns to action for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, and while the layoff is a bit of a concern, he’s in capable hands and has been working exceptionally well over this surface in the New Year. The $575,000 son of Tiznow has shown an affinity for the front end and will no doubt claim an early position there from post position two with jockey Luis Saez driving, and if he’s fit after five months off, he’s dangerous. It’s his first route, but he’s bred for it and he’s capable of logging some pretty impressive numbers.
Stakes winner My Boy Jack ships in from California off a third to McKinzie in the Sham Stakes for trainer Keith Desormeaux. The former turf runner is the most seasoned of the bunch making his eighth career start and, while talented, turf may be a better option for this son of Creative Cause.
Seven Trumpets comes off a nice runner-up finish to Firenze Fire in the Jerome and trainer Dale Romans elected to run this son of Morning Line in a climate not the equivalent of the Arctic Circle, which was the case on Jerome day. The West Point Thoroughbreds-owned colt may pick up a piece with his best, but he seems just a notch below the top runners here.
Road to Damascus faces winners for the first time after breaking his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs last out and he carries the same connections as last year’s Southwest winner One Liner, but he’s yet to put up a big number and seems in a bit deep in here.
The best thing about Ezmosh is he has a nice second in an optional claiming over this track as a prep for this race; the worst thing is, as a frontrunner, he will need to be hustled and used by jockey Gary Stevens from the gate to get good position early. He’ll need everything to go right here.
Asmussen also sends out undefeated Retirement Fun, who won an allowance three weeks ago at Fair Grounds, and Combatant, who was second in the Springboard Mile and Smarty Jones in his last two. Both will need big improvement to best the better runners in here.
The last for Asmussen is Zing Zang, who was fourth in the LeComte last out. Hard to imagine he’ll improve that much here.
Lukas’ second runner here is Kentucky Club, who broke his maiden wearing a $30,000 tag last out. He is in pretty deep and may be suited to softer company.