Arkansas’s path to the Kentucky Derby will finally resume Saturday at Oaklawn Park with the rescheduled Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. While the frigid temperatures that plagued the Midwest are now in the rear view mirror, Oaklawn is still unlikely to be a sunny paradise Saturday. Rain is forecasted for both Friday and Saturday this week in Hot Springs, so this field may have to contend with a sloppy track.
This race plays out as a rematch of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, as 2020 2-year-old champion Essential Quality once again takes on two-time Grade 1 winner Jackie’s Warrior.
#1 Essential Quality asserted himself in that championship event at the end of last season, but he had some help in doing so. A fast early pace compromised his main rival and set up his late run. That said, he still earned a strong 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the victory, continuing his pattern of improving with each career start. This son of Tapit is still lightly raced and may have quite a bit more developing to do, even given his status as the leader of this division. On the other hand, he’s unlikely to be fully cranked to put forth his best effort first off the layoff, as more prestigious goals await in the coming months.
The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring horses on or near the lead, and that should give the edge to #4 Jackie’s Warrior in his quest to turn the tables on his main rival. Jackie’s Warrior is the only true front-runner in this field, and his only possible pace rival also hails from the Steve Asmussen barn, so it’s unlikely he’ll receive much early pressure. Jackie’s Warrior was badly compromised by some aggressive early rides on a few competitors in that Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, pushing the opening TimeformUS pace figures into the mid-140s – far too fast to sustain over a 1 1/16 miles. Jackie’s Warrior had previously proven his quality in impressive scores in both the Hopeful and Champange, finishing off each of those races in a manner to suggest that he should be able to handle this slight stretch-out in distance.
Furthermore, Asmussen has great statistics with this move. Over the past five years, he is 9 for 22 (41%, $2.46 ROI) with horses coming off layoffs of 75 to 150 days in graded stakes dirt routes.
I strongly prefer these two favorites to the other runner with graded stakes credentials, #7 Spielberg. This Bob Baffert trainee just hasn’t progressed much since his races last summer at Del Mar, and he was exposed as being a cut below the top 3-year-olds in he Robert B. Lewis last time. If looking for horses to use underneath in trifectas, I’d rather throw a longshot like #6 Woodhouse into the mix. This son of Speightstown ran well over a muddy track last time out, finishing well down the center of the track while racing greenly. That said, it would be a surprise if either of these runners cracked the exacta.
Trifecta: 4 with 1 with 6, 7