The Southwest Stakes, a Kentucky Derby prep race run this Monday at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, is primarily known as a race that Smarty Jones won on his way to a near-Triple Crown victory in 2004. Other future greats like Lawyer Ron and Smoke Glacken, both Eclipse Award champions, have won it as well. In recent years it hasn't produced top-level contenders. Last year's winner, Suddenbreakingnews, was a talented colt who was wildly frustrating because he never reached his potential.
The Southwest is the last of the Prep Series portion of the Road to the Triple Crown, meaning it is the last prep race that offers just 10 points to the winner. As such, it is far more useful as a gauge as to where horses are at than it is a meaningful indicator of what the Derby field will look like -- a win here will do little to help a horse get into the Derby field, and a loss here is far from fatal. We're just looking to learn more about the field, and we are lucky to have a pretty deep and interesting field this time around. There are two or three current national-level horses and a whole slew of locally-based runners that are looking to make some noise and get onto the big stage. Here's a look at the most interesting runners in the field:
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Uncontested: I am very intrigued by this colt trained by Wayne Catalano and ridden by his son-in-law Channing Hill. I wish a better jockey was on board, but there is still a lot to like. In November he was fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and it wasn't impressive. He had run only once before, though, and that was in a sprint, so I'm willing to give him a pass. Next time out in the Smarty Jones he was clearly the best as he ran wire-to-wire, and he had ended the race with half a furlong left to go. He showed massive upside in that race, and it's my hope that we see more of that uncovered in this one.
Lookin at Lee: Given the name, it's no surprise that this colt is a son of 2010 Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky. He hasn't run since a disappointing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year. He has, to this point in his career, had a fatal flaw for racing at the level he races at. He's a deep closer, but he lacks top-end speed. That makes it hard to cover the ground you need to cover to close late in a race unless the early pace completely blows up. You can't rely on that happening with horses of this caliber -- especially not in races of manageable distance like this one. There is a lot to like about this horse, but far more important to me than how he does in this race is if he has developed more late speed during his absence from racing. Unfortunately, his last workout before the race didn't show any speed at all. I'm highly skeptical.
Petrov: Trainer Ron Moquett has a hot hand in this race. He won it two years ago with Far Right and was second last year with Whitmore. This horse has two second-place finishes in stakes races, including the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn last month, where he followed Uncontested the whole way around the track. He needs to improve dramatically. If his works are any indication, though, he just might have -- his last work was a stunner.
One Liner: Todd Pletcher always has three handfuls of Derby contenders, and another one for this year has emerged with the late addition of this horse to the field. He's unbeaten is two career starts but is making his stakes debut here. He broke his maiden way back in July at Saratoga and then was off until the end of January when he won an allowance race at Gulfstream while posting a solid 87 Beyer. You have to respect the connections, but until we see him in this company there is no real reason to get excited yet.
Warrior's Club and Dilettante: These two go together because they are both trained by the ageless D. Wayne Lukas, who has approximately a million Triple Crown victories to his credit. These two horses are more promising than proven. Warrior's Club was fourth in the Smarty Jones and third in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Dilettante just won a maiden special weight last time out, but his 88 Beyer was promising. Florent Geroux is on board for this race, and that's a big positive as well. Dilettante is the more interesting of the two, but both horses fit more into the category of emotional favorite because of the Lukas connection than major contender.
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