The lone Derby Points race of the weekend is the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Triple Crown race winners Smarty Jones and Essential Quality have used this race in the past. Multiple Grade 1 winner, Lawyer Ron also used this race as a Derby prep. Bob Baffert, who has 16 total wins at Oaklawn in the three graded Triple Crown prep stakes there, brings graded stakes winner, Newgrange, in from Southern California to compete against the winner of the Smarty Jones, Dash Attack. As of now, if he were to win, he would not be eligible to earn the points toward entry in the Derby. Regardless, this is an interesting twelve horse field in what should be a good betting race. Below is the horse by horse preview, along with some thoughts on some other three year old action around the country this weekend.
Oaklawn Park Saturday 1/29/21, Race 9: The Grade 3 Southwest Stakes
17 Total Derby points (10/4/2/1)
1 – Ben Diesel (175-1, Circa): After a promising debut, this three year old son of Will Take Charge has tried two stakes races where he drew wide posts in races with quick early fractions. A closer might not have been bothered with those draws, but as a front runner, he was sent hard to secure position. In both cases, he faded off the scene late. There’s no denying he draws a better spot in the gate for what he wants to do today. He’s also bred to handle dirt routes, so I’d expect his stamina to improve. However, there’s as many as six others that typically want to be forwardly placed here. He may make the lead, but I don’t envision easy fractions for him. He was over bet in the Smarty Jones last out, sent off at 4-1. That and the post relief he’s getting makes me feel like his odds might come down a bit off his 10-1 morning line figure, which, in that instance, would be too low for me.
2 – Dash Attack (100-1, Circa): Ken McPeek has a strong hand at this point of the Derby Prep season, and he brings his undefeated son of Munnings back for round three. He beat a solid field on debut going one mile here in December. He came back in the Smarty Jones, where he hesitated a bit at the break. He was able to regroup and allow the quick tempo to develop in front of him. He got off the rail and rolled by the front runners with a four wide surge. He crossed the wire two lengths in front of his nearest rival on a track rated sloppy. The waters get a little deeper here, but the pace scenario is again favorable to him. It remains to be seen how he’ll fare as the races get longer, but he is a definite contender here.
3 – Don’tcrossthedevil (350-1, Circa): He tried stakes company off an allowance victory in his last start when he finished up the track in the Smarty Jones. That race was an absolute disaster for him on many fronts. He was shuffled to the back of the field at the break on a sloppy track with a big field. He never got involved in that race, but I do think it’s fair to draw a line through that race. He’ll be a huge longshot in this race, but as longshots go, he wouldn’t be the worst stab here, as the conditions will be better and he gets a jockey that is much more familiar with the local course. I think he could be worth throwing in the bottom of a trifecta.
4 – Kavod (275-1, Circa): The most experienced runner in the field makes his 11th career start in this race. He finished 4th after moving a little early in the Smarty Jones last out. He was three lengths behind Dash Attack that day when making his first two turn start on the main track. He’s a stakes winner at six furlongs and a very useful horse, but I think this level of competition is a little too deep for him.
5 – Costa Terra, (300-1, Circa): This son of Gun Runner makes his first start since finishing 5th in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October. He’s been based at the Fair Grounds but since he’s campaigned by the same connections as Epicenter, it’s not surprising to see him end up here. While he wasn’t working with him, his recent drills, at least from a timing standpoint, are comparable to his more accomplished stablemate. From a figures perspective, he’ll need to improve, however at 12-1 or higher, he might be an interesting horse to use underneath in the exotics or take a small chance on to win.
6 – Osbourne (200-1, Circa): The runner-up in the Springboard Mile makes his first start at Oaklawn for Ron Moquett. He’s been sharp in all three career starts, adding a little distance each time. He hit the front in his two turn debut at Remington Park last out, but couldn’t hold off Make It Big in the final 1/16 of a mile. That one is scheduled to make his three year old debut in two weeks in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, and a strong performance from Osbourne here would definitely be flattering for him. He (Osbourne) handled rating off the pace fairly well last time out, so it’s likely he can carve out the kind of trip that has been winning over the course over the last few weeks. From there, it will be a question of whether he’s good enough or not.
7 – Ignitis (175-1, Circa): It’s always fun when D. Wayne Lukas is on the Derby Trail, and while this son of Nyquist still has to significantly improve to stamp himself as a contender, he does keep gradually getting better. We’ve seen Lukas train horses like this that just keep grinding, then all of the sudden, they run a monster race. I don’t know if that’s the case with this son of Nyquist, but he ran on well when being forced wide in the short stretch of the Smarty Jones Stakes. He’s run well when he’s had a quick pace develop in front of him, which certainly could happen here again. I think his best shot is likely underneath again, but by no means would it shock me if he would do better. His morning line figure of 10-1 still feels a little short for me though.
8 – Barber Road (225-1, Circa): He’s the horse that I’ve struggled the most with here. He definitely had some traffic to contend with last out, and he outfinished both Ignitis and Vivar to clearly secure second place. Dash Attack was able to tip out and was better than him on that day, and I think that one has more upside moving forward. He’s definitely a gutty horse that continues to run quality races. Ricardo Santana Jr. has been riding lights out right now, so him getting the call is probably an upgrade. He’s a contender for sure, but I think there are some others that are also improving that could offer better value.
9 – Classic Moment (275-1, Circa): I’m not sure what to make of his performance in the Springboard Mile. He broke well and made his way to the front coming off the first turn. However, another horse was very headstrong and fought his way to the front while the field was starting their run down the backstretch. His stablemate came through inside of him, and all of the sudden he was in behind horses and he backed out of the picture. He was backing up while under a full drive. He did keep fighting to pass some tiring rivals, but he wasn’t making up any ground on the top three finishers. He did fire a bullet over this course, and while it’s possible he could grow from that effort, I’m not convinced that he’s going to be able to overcome a large field with others inside and outside of him that want to secure the same early position. He’s a pass for me in this spot.
10- Newgrange (20-1, Circa): While Bob Baffert has won this race four times in his career, he typically isn’t sending his aces here for this race. Secret Circle in 2012 was the only one of Baffert’s winners in this race to go on to win another graded stakes race. However, Secret Circle was much better at one turn and he was able to overcome his distance limitations when beating some soft fields in this race and the Rebel that year. This race will be a true test for this undefeated son of Violence. He’s had two very easy trips in both of his races, and that is not likely going to happen here. He was very professional, winning in his debut at Del Mar when going six furlongs at the end of their meet in November. He made his next start on New Years Day in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita where he faced four rivals. He had an uncontested lead, where his biggest challenge came from his stablemate, Rockefeller, who seems better equipped to be a one turn horse. He won the race easily, but was never really challenged. There’s enough speed drawn inside of him to make it difficult to clear this field before they hit the first turn. He’s facing more horses than today than in his first two starts combined and he’s likely going to have to either rate for the first time or go faster than he’d like to in the early stages, while going a longer distance. He’s 2-1 on the morning line, and will likely be bet down lower than that. For me, I feel like that number is way too low to play him in this race. I’ll be trying to beat him in this race today.
11-Call Me Jamal (250-1, Circa): He broke his maiden last month when making his third career start. It was a gate to wire performance for this son of Malibu Moon who had no issues getting over the sloppy course that afternoon. He draws a wide post so it’s hard to fathom him working out a similar trip with this group today. This is probably not an ideal spot for him to face winners for the first time.
12- Vivar (250-1, Circa): Brad Cox sends out this son of Cairo Prince for his 6th career start. He’s another horse that has been gradually improving. He finished just in front of Call Me Midnight in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes two starts back. I thought his race in the Smarty Jones last out was better visually than it looks on paper. He looked to struggle to get comfortable while racing on a sloppy course for the first time. Once he got on track, he was closing well into a quick pace, but he lost some of his forward momentum when he was forced seven wide coming off the final turn. He still was gaining ground, and finished well to be 5th. Blinkers are going on, which may help him secure a better early position. However, breaking from post 12 in a race with a decent number of front runners, you’d think he’d be better served saving some ground into the first turn and try to uncork a late rally again, hoping to take advantage of the longer stretch and the added distance.
The verdict: Top Picks 2-12-6
For me, this feels like a good spot to take a stand against the Baffert horse, Newgrange. While he’s the only graded stakes winner in the group, I’m not certain that field that he beat at Santa Anita was very good. On top of that, he couldn’t have had an easier trip. The only other pace threat in that race was his stablemate, Rockefeller, who shares common ownership as well. There was no way that Flavien Prat was going to get into a speed duel that day, so when Johnny V. and Newgrange won the break with his inside position, Prat took back. Today, the shipper has the target on his back, and I can’t imagine the jockeys on speed horses with inside position on him being willing to concede the early lead without a fight. I expect a contested pace, and if Newgrange is just better than this group, he’ll be able to overcome that. My guess is that he might win the battle on the front end, but that will soften him up and keep him from winning the war. Dash Attack overcame a slow start and was able to create a winning trip last out, and I’m going to bet that he can do it again. While I do wonder about him getting longer distances, I think about the success McPeek had with Swiss Skydiver. Her pedigree was certainly questionable for getting longer distances, but she certainly was better when the races were longer, winning the Alabama and the Preakness during her tremendous three year old campaign. Vivar was gobbling up ground last out and could definitely benefit from another contested pace here. Osbourne may be able to get first run on some of the front runners here, assuming he can build off a strong effort in Oklahoma last month. Barber Road never runs a bad race, so I’ll definitely try to cover with him. Costa Terra and Ignitis could offer value if they go off at longer odds than their morning line figures.
Seven Furlong Stakes Races
In 2015, Nyquist started his three year old campaign in the seven furlong Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes. There’s no one anywhere near that level in this year’s running in this year’s edition, which goes off as Race 4 on Saturday 1/29 at Santa Anita. Pinehurst (#2, 100-1, Circa) is a Grade 1 winner, winning an uninspiring edition of the Del Mar Futurity in September. He was no match for his stablemate, Corniche, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his first two turn try. He cuts back to a sprint for his seasonal debut, and he runs in a race where three of the five runners are trained by Baffert and owned by the same group. As a result, I’m more interested in seeing what kind of performance we’ll see from Doppleganger (#4, 48-1, Circa). He was an impressive winner at Los Alamitos in his debut. He’s a son of Into Mischief that cost this ownership group $570K when they purchased him at the Fasig-Tipton Select Sale in 2020. He showed that he’s comfortable coming from off the pace, and the fact that his stablemate, McLaren Vale (#3, 200-1, Circa) is entered here, I expect the early pace to be solid. That one seems to be entered to ensure that Forbidden Kingdom (#1) is forced to work hard on the front end, preventing him from securing an easy early lead.
Weather will be a factor in determining if the Spectacular Bid Stakes (Race 6 on Saturday, 1/29) at Laurel is run or not. Right now, a major snowstorm is scheduled to bear down on the mid-Atlantic region at some point on Friday, but there’s also a chance that this goes to sea and has minimal effect on the racing. If this race is run, it features the seasonal debut of H P Moon (#3), who was one of the most impressive maiden winners than ran this summer at Pimlico. He’s sired by Malibu Moon out of a Distorted Humor mare, so he should get better as the races get longer. He’s been working well for his return and is definitely worth watching here.
Maiden Races of Note
There’s another race that is at the mercy of Mother Nature scheduled for Saturday 1/29 at Aqueduct. The first race only has five horses scheduled to go the one turn mile there, but Todd Pletcher trains a 1-5 favorite for the Repole Stable, Long Term (#5). He’s by Curlin out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, so he figures to keep getting better at longer distances. He’s actually cutting back in distance, finishing second at 1 Mile and ⅛ last out. He should graduate easily here, which could certainly propel him to a race like the Gotham at this same distance at the beginning of March.
While it will be unseasonably cool, there’s no weather concerns at Gulfstream on Saturday when they run the loaded Pegasus World Cup card. There’s two maiden special weight races on the undercard there, Races 2 and 4, both of which feature some expensive and well-meant runners. Race 2 is at 1 Mile and 1/16 and five of the eleven runners are six figure plus purchases. Beyond Best (#1) definitely has a post advantage over his Pletcher barn mate, Complete Agenda (#10) and Bill Mott’s Happy Boy Rocket (#9). The outside posts are definitely tricky to overcome in races at that distance at Gulfstream. These are the three most likely winners here, but there’s enough potential talent signed on that an upset could be well within reach.
The 4th race is run at seven furlongs and seven of the twelve here cost $100K or more. Todd Pletcher, who is winning at a 42% clip at this meet sends out a pair of firsters for WinStar, Swing Shift (#10) and Congressman (#12). Saffie Joseph, who is the leading trainer at the meet has two live runners, with Surpassing (#9) and Positive Review (#11). Chad Brown sends out Mackillop (#5) for his debut off some snappy drills. Perhaps the most accomplished horse, Bourbon Heist (#6), who was 4th, beaten less than two lengths in the Iroquois in September, makes his first start as a three year old. This field is incredibly deep, and the winner is likely to try stakes company in their next start.
Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.