Race of the Week: Southwest Stakes (Oaklawn Park)
By Scott Shapiro
This week’s edition of “Race of the Week” takes us to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for a one of the better three-year old races of the year, thus far. Oaklawn Park is the site of this week’s featured race, the $300,000 Southwest Stakes. The event run at a mile and a sixteenth for three-year olds is quite often used as a prep to the Rebel Stakes and, of course, the Arkansas Derby in April. It also offers horseplayers a solid field of contenders.
The Southwest Handicap, as it was originally called, was first run in 1968 at the sprint distance of six furlongs. It was then moved to the one-mile distance in 1983 before being modified to its current distance last year. Unlike most races I have featured in this column, the name of this race is not original or used to honor a great person of the past. Instead, it was simply named after the former NCAA conference of the home state Arkansas Razorbacks. The conference was made of mostly of Texas schools, but included a few from Oklahoma and Arkansas too. It was disbanded in 1996 after 82 years of existence.
The Southwest is not incredibly rich in history, but has seen its share of talent enter the Oaklawn winners’ circle. Mr. Cozy won the inaugural event, followed by Ruler In Gold and Love that Dollar to start the seventies. Shug McGauhey-trained Whitebrush won the first ever mile version of the race and was later followed by twentieth-century stars like Demons Begone, Big Sur, and Smoke Glacken .
The race continued to gain momentum into the twenty-first century as top Derby prospects regularly made the Southwest part of their agenda with the goal of reaching Kentucky the first Saturday of May. While Lawyer Ron, Teuflesberg, Denis of Cork, Old Fashioned, Secret Circle, Super Ninety Nine and Tapiture are all worthy of discussion, it is the 2004 winner, Smarty Jones, that tops the list of past victors. The son of Elusive Quality took the racing world by storm by in capturing the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but could not hold off the hard charging Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes. The Pennsylvania-born colt named after one of the co-owner’s mothers was extremely close to becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed and remains one of the most popular Thoroughbreds of this century.
The 2015 field for the Grade III Southwest Stakes contains a solid group of three-year olds led by runners from some of the game’s top conditioners. However, mother nature forced racing officials to push the race back, creating a few modifications from the original field set last weekend. The changes included the scratch of my original top choice J S Bach for Todd Pletcher and Donald R Dizney. The colt apparently came down with an illness of some sort. Perhaps it was the poor weather that caused the colt to feel below par, but it certainly changed the complexion of the race. I hope to see the son of Tale of the Cat back on the track soon.
Far Right, Bayerd, Private Prospect, and Mr. Z all exit the $150,000 Smarty Jones on January 19th and will remain part of Sunday’s field. Mr. Z who is still eligible for a non-winners of two event, has run well since a fifth place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Despite his racing experience, this son of Malibu Moon veered out in the stretch in his last, likely costing him the race. Corey Nakatani will fly in to get his first shot on this colt. He certainly has the class and talent to be there in the end, but I wonder if this Zayat Stables runner is not a bit tired from an arduous campaign starting at Churchill at the end of last June.
Far Right and Bayerd were the benefactors of Mr. Z’s mishap in the Smarty Jones. Mike Smith, rider of Far Right, took advantage of a big opening inside and stormed home full of run to win going away. This son of Notional has performed well at multiple tracks including Oaklawn and should be coming with his late kick again. We just wonder, based on pedigree and anticipated pace, whether he can get there. Bayerd is a $75,000 son of Speightstown for Steve Asmussen and Clark Brewster. This colt has already earned over $300,000 and definitely has some talent, but he has the looks of a sprinter to me. Asmussen also sends out Bold Conquest. When last seen this son of Curlin was finishing a distant third to Carpe Diem and Mr. Z in last year’s Grade I Breeders Futurity at Keeneland. This colt has a chance to be the most successful in the field, but may need a race to perform near his best.
An interesting newcomer is Donnie Von Hemel’s Hillbilly Royalty. This son of Langfuhr comes into the race on short rest, but off of two impressive efforts routing against lesser. If he is able to replicate those efforts, he is a major contender on Sunday. Private Prospect and Kantune, two runners I did not like as much with the presence of J S Bach, are now in with much greater chances to perform well. They should get great trips right off the lead and have the experience to be able to get the distance. The Truth Or Else, Phenomenal Phoenix, Majestico, and Bold Animaux comprise the remainder of the 2015 Southwest Stakes field, but look to be a bit overmatched.
This race was already a difficult one to decipher, but the changes in the itineraries of these runners makes this one even more challenging. Mr. Z appears to be the class of the field and should benefit from the extra rest, but is hard to trust at a short price given his 1 for 9 record and extreme outside post. I think he should once again be around when they turn for home, but I prefer others.
Bayerd is another runner that figures to be in the mix as well as in the superfecta, but I prefer others on top due to distance concerns and a rather ordinary finish in the Smarty Jones. The newcomer Hillbilly Royalty takes a huge step up in class and may need more rest after a huge effort in his last earlier this month. He may be talented, but I think he is biting off a bit more than he can chew due to the race being pushed back.
Far Right is the 5-2 morning line favorite and our top choice in this one for trainer Ron Moquett. He did get a perfect trip in the Smarty Jones, but there is little reason to not expect another one from Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith on Sunday. This colt should be able to run down a tired field once again in the final furlong and propel himself strongly into the Kentucky Derby mix. Private Prospect and Kantune are value plays that should sit perfect trips and are worth playing with my top choice. In fact, the “light bulb” angle may be in effect for Kantune who finally broke his maiden in career start number seven. I expect a big effort from this Gary Barber owned colt.
1st– #6 Far Right
2nd– #9 Kantune
3rd– #1 Bayerd
4th– #4 Private Prospect
5th- #11 Mr. Z
While I wish J S Bach was in the race, his defection has made this race better for the horseplayer. I am going to play exactas and trifectas with Far Right in the first and second slots. My suggested wagers are below.
EXACTA BOX 6+9
EXACTA BOX 4+6
TRIFECTA WHEEL 6 with 1+4+9 with ALL
TRIFECTA WHEEL 4+9 with 6 with ALL
Scott Shapiro is a professional horse racing handicapper, lead analyst and editor for shapperdacapper.com and a contributor to DanonymousRacing.com.
He lives in Denver, CO but is planning a move to the Del Mar area soon. He takes pride in finding vulnerable favorites and defeating them in pick four, pick five and pick six wagers.
Follow him on twitter @shapperdacapper.