Race of the Week: Southwest Stakes (Oaklawn Park)
By Scott Shapiro
This week’s rendition of “Race of the Week” takes us to Hot Springs, Arkansas for a special holiday edition of the weekly series. 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 and offers horseplayers a solid field of contenders for Monday’sPresident’s Day card. Unfortunately, poor weather is a strong possibility, but hopefully they can find a way to get this card in without too many issues.
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 itinerary 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. J S Bach for Todd Pletcher and Donald R Dizney is coming off an extremely impressive maiden win at Gulfstream Park and is the likely pacesetter. This son of Tale of the Cat got a late start for a Derby hopeful, but a win on Monday and he will likely be “on the path” to Churchill Downs. Veteran rider John Velazquez makes the trip west to Hot Springs for the mount. If he is capable of getting the distance versus winners, he is in with a big shot.
Far Right, Bayerd, Prospect Park, and Mr. Z all exit the $150,000 Smarty Jones on January 19th and will look to improve in the Southwest. 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 on Monday. 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.
War Story for Thomas Amoss ships in from New Orleans where he comes off a strong second place effort in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes. He was our suggested wager featured in this column at 5-1, but came up a bit short. This son of Northern Afleet is eligible to improve off of his first effort versus stakes company, but he meets a saltier group today and needs to prove that shipping north will not negatively impact him. We also question his ability to get the distance at this level based on how easily International Star went by him last time out. Private Prospect, The Truth Or Else, Kantune, Phenomenal Phoenix, Majestico, and Bold Animaux comprise the remainder of the 2015 Southwest Stakes field, but look to be a bit overmatched.
This race is nearly impossible to handicap given the probable off conditions, but J S Bach, Far Right, and Mr. Z are likely to go off the betting favorites if we are fortunate enough to avoid what could be detrimental weather. Given a fast track, I expect J S Bach to dictate terms with Mr. Z flanked to his outside. J S Bach should be able to control the pace and assuming he has the stamina and endurance he should be able to put this field away. However, if he is forced to go too fast upfront his chances of finishing in the top two diminish tremendously given his lack of seasoning and potential distance concerns. If they go too quickly early I look for Far Right and Bold Conquest to put in late runs and perhaps make up the exacta. We are going to tread very lightly given the weather forecast, but may have a stronger opinion on race day if the surfaces are in good shape.
1st– #1 J S Bach
2nd– #2 Far Right
3rd– #9 Bold Conquest
4th– #6 Kantune
If the track is fast and firm we recommend a WIN wager on J S Bach if he is at his morning line odds are higher. If he is over bet, we recommend only playing this trifecta ticket below.
1 with 2+6+9 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.