A field of ten will line up in Monday’s Grade 3 $300,000 Southwest at Oaklawn Park, the first of three Kentucky Derby preps held at the Hot Springs, Ar. racetrack, and hall of fame trainer Bob Baffert will seek to continue his dominance, sending out the talented Super Ninety Nine.
Last year’s Southwest was split into divisions, with Baffert winning both with Secret Circle and Castaway, won the Grade 2 Rebel again with Secret Circle, and shipped in Bodemeister to win the marquee race of the meeting, the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby.
Baffert is looking to keep the ball rolling with Super Ninety Nine, who earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure winning a first level optional claimer at Santa Anita going a mile on Jan. 31. The colt has one stakes try under his belt, running a game second in the seven furlong Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue last November at Hollywood Park over the cushion track.
Baffert has been nearly unstoppable when he ships runners into Hot Springs. Going back five years the trainer has won with 13 of 19 starters with a $2 ROI of $4.08. He has won the Southwest four times and has won the last three runnings of the Rebel to go along with his one Arkansas Derby victory.
His colt will face the top three finishers form the Smarty Jones on Jan. 21, which was won by Will Take Charge, who prevailed by a neck over Texas Bling, with Always a Tiz another head back in third.
Will Take Charge is trained by hall of famer D. Wayne Lukas. The $425,000 Keeneland purchase is out of the Grade 1 winning mare Take Charge Lady ($2.4 million) who has dropped three other winners led by stakes winner Take Charge Indy ($871,824), who won last year’s Grade 1 Florida Derby.
Texas Bling took eight tries to finally break his maiden, but has shown improvement since then, winning the Springboard Mile at Remington Park before coming out on the wrong end of a photo in the Smarty Jones.
The Dominic Schettino trained Always a Tiz still appears to have some upside, a debut winner at Saratoga last September was followed by a runner up finish to Vyjack in the Traskwood at Aqueduct in the slop on Dec. 9. Vyjack won the Grade 2 Jerome in his next outing on Jan. 5. In the Smarty Jones the son of Tiznow made a good late rally to come up just neck and a head shy of the top spot.
Officer Alex also exits the Smarty Jones, with the colt getting off to a poor start, making a good four wide move and then weakening in the stretch to finish sixth. The colt is a half to stakes winner Officer Ipod ($189,652). Both of the colt’s wins have come against Pennsylvania breds including the Pennsylvania Nursery in the mud on Dec. 8.
Tim Ice will send out Brown Almighty, who checked in third and was moved up to second via a disqualification in the Grade 3 Bourbon at Keeneland last fall. The colt was a disappointing fifth in the Smarty Jones at 3-1 in his last outing.
Fear the Kitten ships in from Fair Grounds for trainer Mike Maker. The colt was a non-threatening third in the Grade 3 LeComte, no match for the 11 ½ length winner Oxbow.
Heaven’s Runaway has a stake win on Tapeta, taking the Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial Juvenile at Presque Isle last September but is winless in three starts since. Last out the colt was fourth in the Big Drama at Delta Downs in the slop. The colt is a half to stakes winner Holy Heavens ($252,893).
Lukas will also saddle Channel Isle, who is coming off a win against non-winners of two allowance foes at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 26. The colt was badly outrun two back in the Springboard Mile.
Completing the field is Big Lute, a smart looking maiden winner in his debut for trainer Steve Hobby.
I will have my selections for the Southwest included with my Aqueduct Report for Monday.
Michael Dempsey provides his full card handicapping report each racing day from New York. His Aqueduct Report is available every day Wednesday through Sunday. Michael has covered the New York circuit daily for more than two decades.
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