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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM

PREPPING FOR THE DERBY – 2014
Volume V…Number 7
Saturday, February 15, 2014

LOOKING FOR AS STRONG A MANDATE IN 2014 AS HE HAD WITH OXBOW AND WILL TAKE CHARGE IN 2013…
WAYNE LUKAS SENDS OUT FAVORITE IN GRADE III SOUTHWEST STAKES

On President’s Day, Monday, Oaklawn Park will be front and center as the second of Four-In-The –Series local Derby Prep races, the Grade III Southwest Stakes will be run at the Hot Springs, Arkansas race track.

With the ungraded Smarty Jones Stakes already in the books, the Southwest will then be followed by the Grade II Rebel Stakes on March 15 and the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 12.

Last year Oaklawn Park proved to be development ground for both Oxbow and Will Take Charge for soon-to-be resurgent trainer Wayne Lukas, although both shone much later in the season, Oxbow on the Triple Crown trail and Will Take Charge in the fall season. Lukas will be hoping to get an even faster start with Southwest ML favorite and Grade I winner Strong Mandate, who makes his 3-year old debut on Monday after being last seen finishing third in the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita.

Before we profile each of the runners in this year’s edition let’s take a peek at the recent history of the race and what, if any contributions it had to the Oaklawn prep series moving forward and the Kentucky Derby.

After previously being run at one mile, the Southwest has been contested at a mile and a sixteenth the last two years, the same distance as the Rebel. Small samples do not necessarily determine what sort of running style is preferred because when the race was run at a mile in 2011, Archarcharch tracked pace setters Derivative, Brickyard Fast and Grant Jack through slow fractions yet still came on to win the race before tracking once again in the Rebel Stakes and running on for third behind heavily favored wire-to-wire winner The Factor and following that up four weeks later by winning the Arkansas Derby from well off the pace at 25-1. Archarcharch attended all four of the Oaklawn prep series dances that year, beginning with a plodding 4th in the Smarty Jones over a “good” race surface that was cuppy in the extreme. Unfortunately all of Archarcharch’s preparation came to naught in the Derby as he was steadied at the start, had his saddle slip and finished 15th before being vanned off after the race.

In 2012 the scenario was quite different as Scatman and Secret Circle ran 1-2 from the gate until inside the sixteenth pole wherein Secret Circle edged clear by a half length with the two being 5 ½ lengths ahead of the show horse. Secret Circle changed tactics slightly in the Rebel as he sat 2 lengths off a speed duel created by Scatman (again), Unbridled’s Note and Cyber Secret before getting up in the final strides. In the Arkansas Derby Secret Circle started in the same position as he did in the Rebel but unfortunately he was asked to run down the brilliant Bodemeister and the best he could do was stay on for a well-beaten second. Both Bodemeister and Secret Circle hailed from the Baffert barn and with Bodemeister headed to Louisville the conditioner excused Secret Circle from another beating. Of course that was solid foresight as Bodemeister, who was incredible in running everyone else in the Kentucky Derby off their feet only failed to hold off I’ll Have Another in what was easily the most incredible performance in defeat since Alydar in 1978.

Last year the race was run at a mile and a sixteenth, the rains came and there was little else but another Baffert speedball, Super Ninety Nine winning off by 11 ¼ lengths. However, once he got away from the sloppy going, Will Take Charge made his first noise of 2013 when after finishing a no-threat 6th in the Southwest found the fast Rebel surface to his liking and continued a relentless rally to get up in the final strides while Super Ninety Nine was never a factor at 6-5 and his quest ended right there. Will Take Charge went straight from the Rebel to the Kentucky Derby where he ran a so-so 8th over another sloppy oval after being checked by Verrazano as he was moving with winner Orb into the upper stretch. Of course Will Take Charge’s unlikely story unfolded later on as he was also a no show in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes but went on to dominate in the fall by winning the Travers, finishing second in the BC Classic and winning the Clark vs older horses. None of the other 2013 Southwest participants went forward in any meaningful way after the race.

As the Derby Prep schedule unfolds it is always germane to analyze the races as both “preps” for the next race moving forward as the ultimate goal is always to use these races as a means of both building confidence and timing everything so that the best performance of all, the peak performance arrives on the first Saturday in May. With that balancing act in mind and with the recent history of the Southwest it is probably advisable to handicap the race more as a stand-alone than as a moving forward lesson plan race. That being said, let’s take a look at the 12 three-year olds entered in 2014 from the rail out (11 betting interests due to a Cody Autry entry.)

Tapiture (3-1) – The son of Tapit…who is he…the colt who needed four races to break his maiden during his juvenile campaign or the colt that actually broke that maiden in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in the final race of that campaign. It is a good question and one that more than a few well-regarded analysts answer by identifying him as the colt that won the stakes race. Trainer Steve Asmussen has been ultra-patient since and this is the first race of his 3-year old campaign and comes following an uninterrupted series of drills since 12/22 at Fair Grounds followed by a half mile breeze over this surface on Thursday, shortly after arriving from Louisiana. Tapiture will be matched up against ML favorite Strong Mandate who beat him in a MSW at Saratoga when both made their career debuts. Asmussen will stick with regular rider Ricardo Santana, Jr.

Coastline (8-1) – The Mark Casse trained son of Speightstown is being given another chance to prove that the three opening races of his career, a second in his debut and a MSW win followed by a convincing victory in the Street Sense Stakes at CD in late October are more indicative of his abilities than his terrible 8th in the Delta Jackpot and his flattened out third in the Smarty Jones in his sophomore debut. So far one mile has been his zenith and with only one pedestrian 5 furlong breeze since the Smarty Jones one month ago the colt has to prove he belongs in the upper echelons. Casse sticks with Shaun Bridgmohan.

Tanzanite Cat (8-1) – One of the two parts of the Cody Autry (28% at the meet) entry the son of Graeme Hall pulled the 9-1 upset in the Smarty Jones so has earned the opportunity to test deeper waters. Although red to be at best a mile speed horse the colt did show stamina in the mile Smarty Jones in just the third race of his career and first beyond 5 ½ furlongs. How he handles the move forward remains to be scene and like Coastline, he has only worked once since the Smarty Jones. It is noteworthy that the weather has not only wreaked havoc by canceling numerous racing dates in the past week or so but the track was also closed to training on many of those days so you should be leery of ho the locally based horses measure up training wise to some of the shippers. However, for those looking to expand their analysis, you can start turning it over in your head that Corey Nakatani will replace Norberto Arroyo (29% with the trainer at the meet from about 40 mounts), who will be aboard the other part of the entry.

Louie’s Flower (12-1) – Trainer Bret Calhoun has gotten off to a somewhat slow start at the current meet (2 wins from 17 starters heading into the weekend) but he is still a conditioner to be reckoned with and sends out the son of Flower Alley for his first start of 2014. The colt concluded his 2013 campaign with three straight victories at Remington Park, moving from a MSW tally to an allowance win to a 23-1 upset in the Springboard Stakes on December 15. Calhoun brought the colt here with is contingent and did have an uninterrupted series of drills every 7-8 days since January 4 culminating in a 3rd best of 29 five furlong works (breezing) on February 2nd. But as mentioned above, that pattern was halted by the weather so what to expect from the speedy colt remains to be seen.

Kendall’s Boy (12-1) – This Sky Mesa colt is an interesting prospect, especially at the price. Despite having to answer whether his only poor showing from 4 careers starts was a product of it being his only race beyond 6 furlongs or a result of his being under restraint while rank over the synthetic main track at Keeneland travelling a mile and a sixteenth. Given the kind of 2013-2014 run that trainer Tom Amoss is having (31% winners from over 600 starters) as well as three of the sharpest works (all breezes at FG with last 7 days ago before shipping) that any in here have had since winning an allowance race in his 2014 debut 5 weeks back and the bloodlines that suggest mid-range distance is in his bailiwick it is probably advisable to toss the Keeneland fiasco and look at him as a viable contender despite not having a work over the surface. Regular rider Rosie Napravnik did not make the trip but Amoss has tabbed Leandro Goncalves who has won with 27% of his assignments for the conditioner so who rides should not be of concern.

Paganol (8-1) – The second part of the Cody Autry entry this Tiz Wonderful colt might turn out to be the better of the two despite having only a 6 furlong MSW victory on his resume. What makes him worth the look is that he is better bred to get the distance than his entry mate Tanzanite and showed such poise in coming from well off the pace in his win while the latter is likely to be part of a contested pace battle that could set it up for him. Also worth note is that Autry’s main rider, Norberto Arroyo sticks with this guy rather than Tanzanite, who he rode in the Smarty Jones upset. Oh yeah, did we mention that Tanzanite gets the services of Corey Nakatani?

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Wait (15-1) – If you are looking for a price there are worse prospects than this Smarty Jones runner up who is sent out by 32% trainer Chris Block following a sharp bullet half mile breeze in :47 2/5 over a fast surface on Thursday. The Run Away And Hide colt made an early move along the rail in the Smarty Jones and remained in contention to the wire as he split Tanzanite and Coastline. Block has added blinkers for the race so it would appear as though the trainer finds the prospect of his extending his speed better than trying to wrangle him back, a tactic that proved unsuccessful in his only bad try, a mild but inconsequential bid in the Springboard Stakes at Remington Park. Regular rider Ken Tohill will be aboard and if he can handle the extra sixteenth wouldn’t be a surprise by claiming a piece.

Strong Mandate (2-1) – What makes this race so playable is that this Grade I (Hopeful) winner is a legitimate enough performer to merit ML favoritism. And our disclaimer is ever and always “but it is Wayne Lukas. Just understand that you are taking an underlay price with the son of Tiznow because right now Lukas is at 4-36 at the meet heading into the weekend, wins at only 10% off this kind of layoff (first race since finishing third in the BC Juvenile on November 2nd and 6% from his last 200 plus graded stakes tries. Yes the horse has the goods and he has worked well for his 2014 debut, until like many of the locals getting interrupted by the shutdowns (last work February 2). So you can legitimately reason that he’s good enough to get a piece, but you’ll take a short price on a youngster that might not be totally fit and has yet to win a race beyond 7 furlongs. There are a couple of positives, one of the nation’s best, Joel Rosario who rode him for the first time in the B Juvenile is aboard and the Tiznow – Clear Mandate (Deputy Minister) blood lines are all stamina.

Ride On Curlin (6-1) – This is yet another well bred youngster with every reason to improve following his 2014 debut when he won an entry level allowance sprint on January 12. The son of Curlin was graded stakes placed as a juvenile when he ran third of nine in the seminal Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont, beaten just 1 ¾ lengths total by the well-regarded Derby contenders Havana and Honor Code. The colt took a bit of a step back when he was beaten 7 lengths by Coastline in a show finish in the Street Sense Stakes at CD. But that race came just 3 weeks after the Champagne and was the third in seven weeks so trainer William Gowan gave him a break and brought him here in December. He has shown good tactical speed as well as the ability to rally in his 6-2-1-2 career and though he’ll be making his first two-turn race should handle the distance.

Son Of Dixie (30-1) – If there is an outsider in the race, one that would likely be a major surprise, it is this son of Dixie Union who takes a big step forward while still eligible for non-winners of two lifetime. After breaking his maiden in career start number three in a 7 furlong MSW test at CD this past November the colt has turned in a pair of thirds place efforts vs entry level allowance rivals, his most recent being in the slop here at a mile on January 10. The Bret Calhoun trainee appears over his head BRIS speed figure wise, having a top number of 87, and doesn’t look as though he is a rabbit for his uncoupled stable mate Louies Flower. Tough to back.

Fire Starter (20-1) – Based on his resume to date a repeat of his races would lead to an expectation of a middle of the pack tracking run that finishes up in the middle of the pack. The Steve Hobby trainee has run 5 times, broke his maiden in his fourth start (MSW test at one mile at Laurel) has run 4 of his 5 races at a mile or mile and a sixteenth and turned in a BRIS speed number between 83 and 87. His most recent, the first after the maiden breaker and first of 2104 was a fifth place run behind Tanzanite Cat, Wait and Coastline (each of whom he’ll face again in here) in the Smarty Jones Stakes. If there is one positive to hold onto for the connections it is the idea that they thought enough of his sire (Champion Tapit) to spend a 300K yearling price to purchase him. The breeding suggests there is always the potential for a wake up…but so far it hasn’t happened.

Bourbonize (15-1) – The Tiz Wonderful gelding has done nothing wrong to date in his abbreviated two race career, winning his 7 furlong MSW debut with an easy driving finish at CD and sailing through his first allowance condition with a 4 wide off the pace move to a 4 length victory over a sloppy oval here on January 10. The Kellyn Gorder trainee has also been one of the few locally based runners who have managed to continue a relatively uninterrupted series of works over the surface, getting to the timer for three drills between 1/22 and 2/11. There will be enough speed in here to give him a pace to run into, but to get a piece of this he’ll need to do it from a tough outside post while stepping up yet again. The lack of experience might catch up to him a bit but down the road this guy could be one to watch.

You can always count on Oaklawn to deliver a full and contentious field during their Kentucky Derby Prep series and this edition of the Southwest Stakes is no exception.

As we noted early in this piece, history tells us that not many of these runners will get much beyond this race or perhaps the Rebel and find their way to the Grade I Arkansas Derby should any of the serious contenders decide to remain in Hot Springs to develop. But it is worth noting that each of the twelve runners signed on for the Southwest Stakes is also a Triple Crown Nominated 3-year old.

Check back with us on Wednesday as we’ll review all three of this President’s Day Weekend Derby Preps. Until then, good luck, and we’ll see you at the windows.

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