The connections of the runners from last month’s Smarty Jones failed to be swayed by the results of that race since six of the eight participants are back to contest the Grade 3 Southwest on Monday. The headliner is Smarty Jones winner Gray Attempt, who led from start to finish in what was essentially a merry-go-round race. However, the waters get deeper this time with the added presence of an impressive recent allowance winner and some shippers from Florida. Steve Asmussen was unsuccessful when sending out a trio of runners in the Smarty Jones, so he has increased the size of his army to five for the Southwest.
The Pace Projector is predicting that Gray Attempt may have to work harder in the early stages to replicate his front-running Smarty Jones score. A fast pace is expected, with pressure likely to come from the speedy Jersey Agenda (#5) as well as Boldor (#4) and Olympic Runner (#11). Asmussen’s quintet is sure to deploy a diverse array of tactics so that he’s well positioned to capitalize regardless of pace. If the early fractions are indeed swift, midpack runners like Cutting Humor (#3) and Sueno (#7) will be especially dangerous, and Bankit (#9) may be running on fastest of all late.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, GRAY ATTEMPT (7-2): He’s been unstoppable ever since getting cooked in a speed duel on the Breeders’ Cup undercard when he made his debut last November. He’s not the most visually impressive front-runner. His stakes victories have been accomplished in a scrappy, workmanlike fashion as he’s failed to draw away from his competition in the late stages. That said, his Sugar Bowl win was subsequently flattered when Manny Wah and Hog Creek Hustle returned to place in the Lecomte. We haven’t gotten a chance to assess horses running back out of the Smarty Jones since almost all are in this race, but I don’t feel quite as confident about the overall quality of that field. While the pace was hardly slow, horses who raced near the front seemed to have a distinct advantage. Those chasing found it virtually impossible to pass a single rival in the final quarter-mile. Such a scenario played to the strengths of Gray Attempt, who gamely held sway up front in the short stretch. However, now he’s going to face more serious pace pressure, as he is essentially mandated to go to the lead from his rail draw. He handled the flat mile under ideal circumstances, but I’m concerned that his pedigree is eventually going to catch up with him. Graydar has been a versatile sire, but the female side of Gray Attempt’s pedigree is geared toward sprinting. While I would expect him to put forth another game effort, I believe this is the right time to take a shot against him. Vulnerable at a short price.
#2, NINTH STREET (30-1): Undeniably Asmussen’s fifth-stringer, it’s difficult to view him as a serious win candidate off his Delta Downs efforts. If anything, the fact that he was recently able to get within 1 1/4 lengths of Smarty Jones fourth-place finisher Six Shooter casts a troubling shadow over the form of that race. Pass.
#3, CUTTING HUMOR (3-1): Those looking for a new face will find this colt to be a welcomed addition to the lineup. It took him a few starts to find the winner’s circle, but he did encounter some talented runners prior to doing so. Notably, the top two finishers in that Oct. 7 maiden race would go on to win and place in graded stakes in the subsequent months. Cutting Humor broke out of the maiden ranks in November, but it wasn’t until he met winners in January that he finally upgraded his previously mediocre set of speed figures. He was pitted against the talented Bourbon War, who was coming off an encouraging fourth-place finish in a strong edition of the Remsen. While he was no match for that foe, he stayed on well to secure second in a race that was above par for the level. The 107 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he was assigned places him among the top contenders in this field, and that performance was flattered when fourth-place finisher Everfast returned to close for second in the Holy Bull. If Cutting Humor takes a similar step forward, he will win this race. The fact that John Velazquez has flown in to ride is another positive sign, but all of these factors are going to drive down his price. He’s the favorite on the morning line, and I could see him going off as such for all the aforementioned reasons. I still have nagging concerns about the recent record of Todd Pletcher’s stable, as he is in the midst of a graded stakes drought with his 3-year-old dirt horses. (The only Pletcher horse from this crop to win a graded stakes on dirt has been Sombeyay in the Sanford last July.) I’m certainly using this horse, but it’s not as if he’s the only viable alternative to Gray Attempt. One of several contenders.
#4, BOLDOR (12-1): While he was three wide for much of the Smarty Jones, he also benefitted from racing close to a pace that held together. He successfully negotiated the one-mile configuration that day, but the race flow was undoubtedly a contributing factor. It’s encouraging that he has shown the ability to rate even as the distances have gotten longer. Yet as a son of Munnings out of a dam who has produced sprinters, it’s hard to envision him progressing much further on the Derby trail. Pass.
#5, JERSEY AGENDA (5-1): It should not come as any shock that Asmussen originally started this colt on turf given his pedigree. His dam, Risky Agenda, is a full sister to Riskaverse, a multiple Grade 1 winner who earned more than $2 million while racing primarily on grass. However, deeper in this female family, there are also classic dirt influences. Jersey Agenda’s third dam, Toll Fee, is the granddam of both Havre de Grace and Tonalist. Therefore, I’m encouraged to see that not only has this son of Jersey Town improved with the switch to dirt, but he has also been getting better with added distance. His sloppy-track maiden victory was strong, as he defeated a solid rival in runner-up By My Standards. Returning from a brief layoff, he picked up right where he left off at Oaklawn, proving that two turns and a fast track were also well within his wheelhouse. While the field was perhaps not quite as strong as that of the Smarty Jones, Jersey Agenda won that race with complete authority and earned a 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure, tied for the highest in this field. It’s encouraging to see Ricardo Santana land here since he undoubtedly had his pick of the Asmussen contingent. While the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, this colt is drawn perfectly, just outside of Gray Attempt and Boldor. He’s poised to sit a comfortable trip, and I’m hopeful that he possesses the stamina to outlast the closers even if the early fractions are taxing. The selection.
#6, SUPER STEED (20-1): Unfortunately, that romp in the slop back in November is beginning to seem like the outlier in his past performances. Gray Attempt has soundly defeated him in consecutive starts at different distances. While dynamics were not in Super Steed’s favor either time, I still would have preferred to see him offer up a stronger late kick. Pass.
#7, SUENO (7-2): This colt has come a long way since beginning his career in the maiden-claiming ranks. Following a three-month layoff, he stepped directly into stakes company and passed his first two-turn test with flying colors. While he was not facing a particularly accomplished group that day, he gave the impression that further improvement was forthcoming. He took that next step forward when returned to dirt in the Sham, grinding away to be a game second after a wide trip. There’s still something slightly unprofessional about this colt, as he was a bit too eager in the early going and then appeared to be waiting on runners in the lane. This is the logical next step as Keith Desormeaux allows him to gradually ascend the class ladder. However, his top TimeformUS Speed Figure of 104 does not quite make the cut, so he will need to run faster to beat this group. He seems capable of adapting to a faster early pace and should be running on late once again. Among the chief threats.
#8, SIX SHOOTER (20-1): I suppose it’s possible that he took a massive step forward in the Smarty Jones, though that seems somewhat unlikely given that he’s the most experienced member of this field. He was one of the only runners to be making up ground in the lane that day, and I’m concerned that his surprising fourth-place finish may be an indictment of the entire field. A repeat of that performance gives him an outside chance to hit the board, but I’d rather side with those who offer more upside. Pass.
#9, BANKIT (10-1): If I’m giving a second chance to any horse exiting the Smarty Jones, it would be this guy. It’s difficult to explain why closers had so much trouble making up ground in that race, but the visuals do not lie. Bankit just never had a chance to get into the race, and he was done no favors when his rider chose the widest route into the stretch. Prior to that, I had been impressed with his runner-up finish in the Springboard Mile, in which he unleashed an impressive turn of foot while closing from dead last. He had previously put forth a similar effort against fellow New York-breds in the Sleepy Hollow – the first time he implemented his new running style. It’s fair to be skeptical of this runner’s stamina, especially given how well he ran in sprints early in his career. However, it appears that he has the mental capacity to switch off for the first part of his races and use his burst of speed as late as possible. That valuable attribute may help him get the 1 1/16 miles, and his field-best 101 TimeformUS Late Pace Rating suggests that he is the most likely to capitalize on a fast early pace. It’s encouraging to see an Ortiz brother climb back aboard, and I believe it would be premature to give up on this one. Best chance for an upset.
#10, LONG RANGE TODDY (10-1): The only difference between the Smarty Jones efforts of Bolder and this colt was that Long Range Toddy saved more ground while racing on the rail throughout. He got closest to Gray Attempt at the wire, and his weight-adjusted 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure is tied with Jersey Agenda’s last number for the highest figure in the race. However, I get the sense that others possess more talent and upside. I thought Bankit ran the superior race when they met in the Springboard Mile two back, and Long Range Toddy’s performances prior to that are all just a bit slower. The one edge he may have this time lies in the stamina department since he’s one of the few participants bred to improve with added ground. On the other hand, he’s now drawn in an outside post position in a race that is expected to feature a contested pace. He’s benefitted from perfect stalking trips in his last two starts, and that streak has to come to an end at some point. A fringe player.
#11, OLYMPIC RUNNER (15-1): I’m reticent to put too much stock in blowout wins over sloppy tracks. This colt won his maiden on the same afternoon that Hidden Scroll was unveiled, and there’s been much discussion about the speed-favoring nature of Gulfstream Park’s main track that day. Unsurprisingly, the Race Rating box is color-coded red in TimeformUS PPs, indicating that speed horses had a distinct advantage throughout the card. His 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure stacks up very well against the numbers earned by the top contenders in this race, but Olympic Runner accomplished that figure under ideal circumstances. Now he’s breaking from the far outside and is unlikely to make the lead with faster horses drawn inside of him. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that he’s truly a dirt horse given his ambiguous pedigree and the fact that he’s been entered for turf in both starts. Pass.
My top pick is Jersey Agenda (#5). He possesses more upside than the other entrants, and his allowance victory appears to be on par with Gray Attempt’s Smarty Jones in terms of speed and quality. He’s situated in a good spot to get a stalking trip, which should allow him to overcome a potentially fast pace. I believe it’s worth taking a shot against horses exiting the Smarty Jones, with the lone exception of Bankit (#9), who was hindered by the merry-go-round nature of that race. I also want to prominently use Sueno (#7) since he appears to be improving and should work out the right trip from midpack.
Exacta Box: 5,7,9
Trifecta: 5 with 7,9 with 1,3,7,9,10
Trifecta: 7,9 with 5 with 1,3,7,9,10
Trifecta: 5 with 1,3,10 with 7,9