Oaklawn’s path to the Kentucky Derby officially kicked off last month with the Smarty Jones Stakes, but things get serious on Monday as 14 three-year-olds from all over the country meet in Arkansas for a fantastic edition of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes.
One of the most notable aspects of this race is the plethora of speed types entered.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, and there are a good six or more runners that should all be gunning out towards the front out of the gate. Conventional wisdom would suggest that this scenario may set the table for a late runner.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, American Dubai (6/1): We begin with one of the potential speeds. After blowing the break in his debut, he ran a much more professional race second time out—until the field got into the stretch. Apparently resenting the whip, he shied away from his rider’s encouragement, losing focus and ultimately allowing today’s rival Cutacorner to pass him. The 107 speed figure he earned for the effort is tied for the highest last-out figure in the field. There’s definitely ability here, but we wonder if he can overcome the projected race flow as one of many pace players.
#1A, Torrontes (6/1): He was another beneficiary of his entrymate’s antics in deep stretch last time, as he was cut off as the field crossed the wire. He was clearly only third best, but he was awarded second due to the interference. The addition of blinkers may cause him to be placed closer to the pace early, which may work against him. We believe American Dubai is the more talented of the two, but if you like one, you get them both.
#2, Synchrony (6/1):
You won’t find a better-bred runner than this among his Southwest rivals. By top sire Tapit and out of a dam that earned nearly a million dollars while taking route stakes on both dirt and turf, Synchrony is cut out to have a bright future. His stock went up when Uncle Walter, whom he narrowly defeated in an allowance win last November, came back to finish third in the LeComte last month. Though beaten by two of today’s rivals last time in the Smarty Jones, he did well to weave his way through traffic while getting up for third. He must do better than that to beat this field, but he has the right running style for the race, and we get the feeling we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
#2x, Suddenbreakingnews (6/1): Synchrony’s stablemate has many of the same things going for him. A one-run closer, his style is a great fit for the projected race shape, and he doesn’t figure to be seriously hindered by this wide draw as long as Luis Quinonez takes him to the back of the pack early. Unlike some others in this race, Suddenbreakingnews has plenty of two-turn experience. Though he was beaten by Discreetness last time, we feel that this gelding may have been best after having to wait for room and look for a path between horses in the final furlong. The pedigree is there for him to keep improving as the distances increase, and he has apparently been working very strongly for his return.
#3, Collected (5/2): We’re taking a stand against the morning line favorite. The 107 speed figure he earned last time is tied for the best last-out number in the field, and he did have to overcome a wide trip to win. However, as we start to see horses run back out of the Sham, we’re becoming very suspicious of the quality of the race. As a son of City Zip and a full-brother to a sprinter, there are distance questions here as well. Bob Baffert is always dangerous at Oaklawn, but we feel that there’s better value to be had elsewhere.
#4, Whitmore (5/1): He failed in his lone route attempt and he hasn’t run fast enough sprinting to suggest he can be competitive with a field of this quality. He has also displayed a tendency to break slowly, which could severely compromise his chances in such a large field. Furthermore, the presence of Mike Smith is only going to drive down the price on a horse that probably has his work cut out for him. We’ll pass.
#5, Bird of Trey (10/1): He’s run some competitive speed figures—the 109 he recorded in his Pennsylvania Nursery win is the highest in the field—but he did not handle two turns in his first route attempt last month. That said, he was forced to duel between horses for more than half of that race, which is not a comfortable position for any horse to be in. Furthermore, John Servis gets just a 45 trainer rating with horses making their first start in a route, but gets an 85 rating when they try a route for the second time. There are still some pedigree questions, since there are mostly sprint influences on his dam’s side, but this colt does have some ability. If he’s going off at 10/1 or higher, we could definitely include him.
#6, Z Royal (20/1): This colt appears to be yet another pace player in a race that’s loaded with them. Gary Stevens sees fit to take the mount, but we can’t find much else to like.
#7, Gordy Florida (12/1): He did everything right in the Smarty Jones, gamely fending off all challenges until he finally succumbed to Discreetness in the final strides. For a horse that had never gone two turns, he was very professional and showed a lot of guts. That said, his speed is his primary weapon, and the Pace Projector places him up front early. We respect his ability, but this is a tough assignment.
#8, War Stroll (30/1): He’s certainly heading in the right direction, but his connections are aiming a bit too high at this stage of his career.
#9, Cutacorner (12/1): He was able to get up for the win, beating the green and drifting American Dubai last time, earning a career-best 105 speed figure. He’s not a deep closer like a few others in this race, but he is tractable enough to take up a position in midpack early. It took this horse a few tries to break out of the maiden ranks, but he’s performed respectably in his two runs against winners, overcoming a wide trip to be a close fourth in the Springboard Mile before registering that allowance win last time. Others have more appealing profiles, but this honest colt is probably going to be a generous price. We wouldn’t count him out.
#10, Siding Spring (15/1): His connections couldn’t have picked a much more ambitious spot for his dirt debut, could they? All things considered, he actually put forth a solid performance in the Breeders’ Cup. Racing in traffic for much of his journey, he never gave up and managed to finish within a length of Grade 1 winner Greenpointcrusader. His pedigree is full of dirt influences, so we wouldn’t be surprised if this does indeed turn out to be his preferred surface. Mark Casse has struggled at Oaklawn, but this horse would benefit from a quick pace and is an inflated 15/1 on the morning line. There’s a lot to like.
#11, Luna de Loco (20/1): This colt obviously has talent. He beat two well-meant first-time starters in his debut at Aqueduct last fall and followed that up with an even effort in the Smarty Jones last time. While he is by Malibu Moon, his female family is full of sprint influences, so we wonder about how far he really wants to go. This is also a terrible post for a horse that will most likely be searching for a forward position in the early stages.
#12, Discreetness (6/1): The winner of the Springboard Mile and the Smarty Jones was very unlucky at the draw. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented horses in this race, but he appears destined to work out a wide trip from this post position, especially considering that he usually takes up a position in midpack. To his credit, he did overcome a wide trip to win two back, and he certainly has a nose for the wire. We wouldn’t want to completely throw him out, but we do prefer a couple of runners to his inside.
Our top selection is the Donnie Von Hemel-trained pair of SYNCHRONY (#2) and SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (#2X). They both possess closing styles that fit with the dynamics of this race and are bred to keep improving with added experience and distance.
However, contention runs deep in this large field, so we would recommend spreading in exactas and trifectas while looking for some value. The other horses that we’re interested in using are American Dubai (#1), Bird of Trey (#5), Cutacorner (#9), Siding Spring (#10), and Discreetness (#12). We could even push any number of them as secondary win wagers if the prices are fair. Keep a close eye on the board when playing this race.
EXACTA KEY BOX: 2 with 1,5,9,10,12