The Grade 3, $500,000 Southwest Stakes came up as a much deeper race than last month’s Smarty Jones, and has attracted an intriguing mix of 3-year-olds. Mourinho is likely to go off as the favorite off his fast win in that local prep, but this will be a much more stringent test of his stamina. The race also features the return of last year’s Grade 1 Hopeful winner Sporting Chance, who tries his hand around two turns for the first time.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which seems inevitable given all of the speed signed on for this race. Mourinho (#4) possesses the most early speed of any in this bunch, but both Sporting Chance (#2) and Ezmosh (#11) are likely to push him through much swifter early fractions than what he encountered in the Smarty Jones. Even the speedy Retirement Fund (#7), who has never been headed in his two career starts, should be looking for early forward positioning.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, MY BOY JACK (12-1): The projected fast pace would aid this closer’s chances of working his way into the mix. There was not much early speed in last month’s Sham, which forced Kent Desormeaux to place My Boy Jack closer to the pace than he probably prefers. The TimeformUS Speed Figure of 110 that he was assigned for his effort is decent, but he really didn’t finish off his race that day, winding up a distant third behind the distance-challenged All Out Blitz. He’s going to need a significantly better effort here if he’s to hit the board.
#2, SPORTING CHANCE (9-2): This colt has a lot of questions to answer here, but there’s no denying his talent. He did well to survive a fast pace when winning his maiden at Saratoga last summer and followed that up with a game effort in a wild running of the Grade 1 Hopeful. Appearing to have the victory secured in the final sixteenth of a mile, he abruptly drifted out several paths, nearly costing himself the race.
This colt has been working strongly for his return, and it appears that D. Wayne Lukas has him fit for this first trial on the road to the Kentucky Derby. However, we still have no idea if he can stretch his speed out to route distances. Also, he may be forced to rate behind another rival for the first time given the speed drawn to his outside. His pedigree indicates that he’ll be just fine going this far, since he’s by stamina influence Tiznow and is out of a dam that was third in the 10-furlong Coaching Club American Oaks in one of her finest performances. I’m a fan of this horse and believe that he possesses the talent to overcome all of the obstacles he faces here. On the other hand, he’s likely to drift lower than his morning-line odds of 9-2, and I do think you need to be careful betting horses like this at short prices.
#3, PRINCIPE GUILHERME: Scratched.
#4, MOURINHO (2-1): This horse deserves to be favored coming off his dominant Smarty Jones win. However, things are sure to be different this time around. All of the early speed had scratched out of the Smarty Jones, and Mourinho controlled the early pace through very slow early fractions (note the blue color-coded pace figures at every call in TimeformUS PPs). He won with ease and earned a field-best 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure, but he had everything go his way while accomplishing it. Furthermore, he now picks up 7 pounds off that win, whereas Smarty Jones runner-up Combatant stays at the same weight. Bob Baffert is always dangerous at Oaklawn Park, but I think this horse is one to bet against at what figures to be a very short price.
#5, ROAD TO DAMASCUS (15-1): This is a huge step up in class off a maiden win at Tampa Bay Downs. The horse he defeated by a neck that day returned to finish a distant fifth in the Sam F. Davis in his next start. He appears to be overmatched this time.
#6, SEVEN TRUMPETS (10-1): I think it was the slow pace, rather than the muddy track, that allowed him to run so well in the Jerome last time. Firenze Fire is a talented 3-year-old, so Seven Trumpets deserves some credit for pushing him to a half-length decision. On the other hand, the winner ran so much better than this Dale Romans trainee, since he had to rally into the exceptionally slow early pace. Seven Trumpets has shown the ability to pass horses in his prior races, but none of those efforts was fast enough to suggest he can be a serious threat against the heavy hitters he faces here. I’ll pass.
#7, RETIREMENT FUND (15-1): This horse has never been headed. He’s broken from the inside post position in each of his two starts, giving him a direct path to the lead as they head abruptly into the turn going that distance at the Fair Grounds. While he’s been visually impressive, he has not met particularly accomplished fields. The horse that he defeated last time, Dark Templar, had previously lost to this runner’s stablemate Principe Guilherme by more than 12 lengths. Indeed, others have run faster than this colt and it’s hard to see him improving here given the projected race dynamics.
#8, ZING ZANG (15-1): Considering that he was making his stakes debut, this colt actually ran a decent race in the Lecomte. He was taken far off the early pace and didn’t even commence his late move until they reached the quarter pole. He did well to pass seven runners in the stretch and appeared to still have some run in him as they crossed the wire.
This is the kind of deep closer that needs everything to go his way if he’s to be successful. Yet that just might be the situation he finds himself in here. There is a ton of speed signed on, and Zing Zang should be able to take full advantage of the long stretch at Oaklawn as he attempts to run them all down late. I like the way he’s progressed through each of his starts, seemingly learning with every experience. A mile and a sixteenth may yet be a bit short for him, as he’s bred to really relish longer route distances, but hopefully a fast pace can make up for that. Any price above 10-1 would be a bargain on this improving colt.
#9, KENTUCKY CLUB (30-1): He took advantage of a fast pace against a weak maiden claiming field last time. He’s in over his head.
#10, COMBATANT (6-1): Mourinho beat him by more than 3 lengths when they faced off in the Smarty Jones last time, but they each received weight-adjusted TimeformUS Speed Figures of 113. Whereas Mourinho picks up 7 pounds following his Smarty Jones score, Combatant stays at the same weight. While that alone may not be enough to make up the deficit, he does figure to work out a more favorable trip than Mourinho this time. It’s not as if he was at a major disadvantage in the Smarty Jones, since he stayed relatively close to the pace and saved ground all the way. Yet Mourinho got such a boost from his cozy trip, and I think that one comes back down to earth in this spot.
The outside post position could be a bit tricky, since he’s not a deep closer like some others in here and will be looking to get over toward the inside from this draw. If he’s able to work out a decent trip, I think he has a right to turn the tables on the Baffert trainee and win this race. I slightly prefer one of his Steve Asmussen stablemates at a better price, but this Scat Daddy colt is very much a part of my play.
#11, EZMOSH (12-1): The Tizway colt was seriously flattered when Bravazo, who narrowly defeated him in an allowance race, returned to win Saturday’s Risen Star in his subsequent start. While Bravazo got the better of him back on Jan. 13, Ezmosh may have actually run the better race. The early pace of that race was pretty honest and Ezmosh broke the race open early by picking up the tempo and opening up daylight on the field heading into the far turn. Bravazo ran him down in the late stages, but Ezmosh was incredibly game, battling all the way down to the wire.
While he’s clearly in excellent form, the post position and his running style are negatives. He’s drawn outside of all the other speed, and he’s run his two best races when he’s been able to set the early pace. That is highly unlikely to happen here.
I respect the overall talent of horses such as Mourinho (#4) and Sporting Chance (#2), but I don’t think either one offers significant value on this occasion. At a much bigger price, I want to bet late-running Zing Zang (#8), who should get the fast that he needs. I’ll also key on Combatant in exotics, since he projects to also work out a favorable trip.
Exacta Key Box: 8 with 2,4,10,11
Trifecta: 8,10 with 8,10 with 1,2,4,6,7,11
Trifecta: 8,10 with 2,4,11 with 8,10