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Southwest Stakes A Tilted Affair

If I have my info right, there hasn’t been a division of a stakes race since 1993. That said, the 21 entries being split up into two separate $250,000 stakes races for the Southwest Stakes (III) is kind of a big deal. At the same time, I wish they had used their heads in how they decided to separate entries.

One race features nearly all past stakes competitors, including top finishers from the recent Smarty Jones Stakes. The other features only one big name: Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Secret Circle, while the rest are mainly just recent maiden winners with no concrete credentials just yet.

While random draws are usually the best thing in terms of fairness for all, was there no other way to split up this race? Oaklawn Park is almost giving away free graded earnings to Secret Circle while making the others in the alternate race work for it. As much as I personally doubt Secret Circle’s chances in the Kentucky Derby (I) and its preceding prep the $1 million Arkansas Derby (I), there’s a chance he could be taking away money from a deserving improver going this route.

Anyway, I was asked by a commenter to analyze the fields for the Southwest Stakes. While I won’t break each and every one down to the bare bones (hey, it’s 21 ENTRIES!), I’ll give them both a quick comb-over so you’ll know who to watch.

Division 1 (Race 8) $250,000 Southwest Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Oaklawn Park. Post Time: Monday, February 20 at 4:41pm CST.

Believe it or not, I think Laurie’s Rocket might have a good chance here. While he set the pace in the Smarty Jones, he was on the rail in that race that forced him into early speed. He looks to change tactics here a bit. The Smarty Jones was such a close race, I think it can be largely thrown out among the top finishers, who all seem to be here in this race: winner Junebugred, Reckless Jerry, Jake Mo, Laurie’s Rocket, and No Spin who spun out to finish well behind the rest. Like I said, the Smarty Jones was a hot mess, so I really don’t know what to make of Junebugred’s ability.

However, with that said, I’m going with Castaway— who broke his maiden on his second try at this distance— and will probably nudge Longview Drive to finish on the board. The latter is too good and experienced a horse for me to leave out.

Division 2 (Race 9) $250,000 Southwest Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1/16 miles on dirt at Oaklawn Park. Post Time: Monday, February 20 at 5:15pm CST.

A lot of speed in this race. Secret Circle will probably be a lukewarm favorite, seeing as he just missed the 1-mile Sham Stakes (III) last out and is a newbie at the rating game. Anyone who chooses to push him will probably have a better chance at winning here.

So who will push Secret Circle’s buttons? Looks like Cyber Secret has plenty of speed, but unlike Circle he can hold himself back until the end, where last out he really took off to win by 6 lengths in an Oaklawn op-claimer. Also flying under the radar is Big Wednesday, winner of a stakes over at Presque Isle Downs besting the very talented Mr. Prankster easily.

Weekend Stake Tip: Two Chestnut Upsets

The biggest question for the year’s first graded stakes for three-year-olds, the Sham Stakes (III) at Santa Anita, was being asked of Juvie Sprint winner Secret Circle: could this speed demon rate? The answer was yes, but not in the brilliant way he’s shown setting the pace.

Leading the pack was the awesome Longview Drive followed closely by a tugging Secret Circle, who while whipping around the bend confidently, was hotly pursued by the improving underdog Out of Bounds. Despite stretching out a bit and debuting in stakes company, Out of Bounds was certainly THE darkhorse I had my eye on— especially considering he was ridden by Garrett Gomez, who unleashed hell last weekend winning three stakes. Out of Bounds stretched out his stride to go with Longview Drive and Secret Circle, and won by a good 1/2 length. Is he a Derby hopeful? It’s a bit too early for me to say, but Out of Bounds certainly has the race strategy as well as the gusto to keep him in my thoughts. Secret Circle held off Longview Drive for second. Pro Tip: If Eoin Harty’s sending out a young horse to a stakes early in the game, you had better watch him! Watch replay below.

Meanwhile on the same card, the older horses hashed it out in the San Pasqual (II), led by one of my personal favorites Tres Borrachos as the bettors’ darling. It seems they’ve been toying with Tres’s best strategy, where he has been closing regularly they tried using him as a pacesetter and now in this race he sat just behind the leader, who was Skipshot. Coming for home under solid fractions, it looked like Tres Borrachos was squeezed a little bit on the rail and was set loose late on the outside coming down the home lane. Mike Smith and Uh Oh Bango, who absorbed the perfect trip slightly off-pace to the outside, got their momentum going early and held off Tres Borrachos easily for the win. Maybe next time for the modest chestnut gelding. Chantal Sutherland commented on Twitter that her mount Utopian was startled by the crowd, but will race back on turf. Watch replay

Derby Hopefuls Abound in Delta Jackpot

Thanks to the fact that entry to the Kentucky Derby can be had with about $120,000 in graded earnings, the winner of this weekend’s $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (III) is practically guaranteed a spot in the starting gate of the 2012 Run for the Roses. Last year, one of my beloved Calder juveniles Gourmet Dinner scored a big win in this race. It’s not exactly a key prep race for the Derby, but it has yielded some decent horses since its 2002 inception, such as Rule, but has only produced one eventual Derby starter in Z Humor

Nevertheless, 17 horses had pre-registered for the race, and while I don’t see the cream of the crop emerging from this field, there are a couple good ones to watch and of course, a few more to keep an eye on.

$1 million Delta Downs Stakes (III) - 2-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Louisiana Downs. Post Time: Saturday, November 19 at 4:15pm EST.

[Post Position - Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Longview Drive - Joel Rosario, 119 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - A horse with classic awesomeness written all over him (he’s the full brother to Pyro), he looks to continue his hot winning streak after winning three in a row (two of them stakes). He doesn’t have an issue shipping around, has Joel Rosario in the irons, and likes the distance, so the rail spot may be his biggest issue. I like this horse a lot.

2) Seven Lively Sins - Julien Leparoux, 119, Albert M. Stall - Stall has a good record at Delta Downs, and looks to capture its biggest race with this son of Stormy Atlantic. He has a win at 7 furlongs to his credit and last out was runner-up to Motor City in the Iroquois (III). Expect him to be the pacesetter, but not to win… too many good horses behind him that like to run off-the-pace.

3) Tiz Moe - James Theriot, 117 lbs, W. Bret Calhoun - Second to My Adonis in the 1-mile Jean Lafitte Stakes, this Bret Calhoun trainee and son of Tiznow is interesting in a surprising sense. He ought to improve off his runner-up finish to My Adonis. I’ll keep the faith in Calhoun’s juveniles by keeping an eye on this one.

4) Basmati - Corey Nakatani, 117 lbs, Doug O’Neill - Another California invader who looks to be on the improving path, he broke his maiden last out in a mile-long special weight. This Borrego colt sunk against top company like Secret Circle and that mess of colts in the Norfolk (I). He’ll have an easier time here, but there’s still a big floating question of how he’ll be able to handle the bump up in class as well as the flight over.

5) My Adonis - Elvis Trujillo, 119 lbs, Kelly Breen - The same silks that donned George and Lori Hall’s Pants on Fire and Ruler On Ice return on this Pleasantly Perfect colt, who is also trained by Kelly Breen. Looking at his race record, he has shown he can stretch out to meet this distance and favors this track. He’s fresh off a confident boost win in the Jean Lafitte prep, but had an easy trip of it. Might be a bit too favored, and every jockey will know to go after him.

6) Drill [pictured] - Martin Garcia, 122 lbs, Bob Baffert - The only graded winner in the field, this promising Lawyer Ron colt didn’t run much last out in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile where he finished tenth. The most overrated two-year-old colt, in my opinion. I see him nailing third at best giving so much weight to other promising colts.

7) Laurie’s Rocket - Brian Joseph Hernandez, 117 lbs, Dallas Stewart - The Bluegrass Cat colt took a breather after an 8th in the messy Champagne (I) and looks to rebound here after a successful optional claiming win. He’s flashed some talent, but I’ll pass for now.

8) Sabercat - Gerard Melancon, 119 lbs, Steve Asmussen - This Bluegrass Cat son showed he liked the dirt last out, winning the Garden City Stakes at Monmouth. An almost black, very handsome colt with the leading local rider and Asmussen at his side, I’m jotting down the win for the very patient Sabercat.

9) Dougs Buddy - Rex Stokes, 119 lbs, Joan Petrowski - Couldn’t find too much info on this Badge of Silver colt, but his sire’s first progeny appeared to be quite precocious earlier this year. Phantom entry for me… not enough info to go on.

10) Jake Mo - Donald Simington, 119 lbs, Allen Milligan - This nice Giacomo colt dares to step it up from his humble success at Prairie Meadows. A fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, he’ll be on short rest and running from the far outside. He has a lot up against him already, knowing he’ll need a good start and a good running position breaking from the ten hole. Should he do well and get a good ride, it would only keep proving that he’s classic material, but I don’t see him having success here.

Also eligible in case of scratches: No Spin

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