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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.

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

Battle in the Sandbox

The yearly battle of the babies at Ol’ Sandy is finally here!

The titlist race of the three-year-old colts— more so, in my opinion, than the grueling, too-late-in-the-year Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I)— is the Champagne Stakes (I) at Belmont Park, a race that has been predicting future champions for decades. Established in 1867, it’s the oldest grade I race for juvenile colts in the country, with winners like Seattle Slew, Buckpasser, and Easy Goer capped off their two-year-old seasons with the Champagne. Then we have the equivalent for juvenile fillies in the Frizette (I), won in the past by Devil May Care, Shuvee, and Flanders.

Who makes the gate this time, with a free pass at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies to boot?

$300,000 Frizette Stakes (I) - 2-Year-Old Fillies. 1 mile on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday October 8 at 4:45pm EST.

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

1) My Miss Aurelia - Corey Nakatani, Steve Asmussen - For sure one of the most talented fillies in the field, she’s 2-for-2 in her career so far hoping to keep stretching out in distance as her pedigree would suggest. This is her first time with Nakatani and as a young, apparently green horse in a rail slot, I’m a bit wary. But as she has proved in her Adriondack (II) win, she’s all class and guts.

2) Miss Netta - Rajiv Maragh, Kieran McLaughlin - A Street Sense filly out of a Dynaformer mare, this gal has some speed and poses a big threat coming fresh from a single start into this G1 field. McLaughlin’s another trainer I trust, but I feel plenty wary about Maragh guiding her home. I’m excited to death about this one but my gut is saying she’s got too much work to do already.

3) Stopshoppingmaria - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - Regarded as one of the quickest two-year-olds of the year (she nailed a 103 Beyer speed figure, 1 higher than that of Uncle Mo at this age), she was third in her debut under My Miss Aurelia’s vapor trail then came back to win a maiden special weight by nearly ten lengths with just a wave of the whip in her face. A very, very sharp filly who seeks to exact revenge here on My Miss Aurelia. She’ll need to beat a better field here to do it, but definitely has the precociousness to get the job done. 

4) Holiday Soiree - Edgar Prado, John Terranova - Daughter of Harlan’s Holiday gets Edgar Prado first time out here and broke her maiden in her prior start after two tries. She looks to still be on the improving end and probably needs more time by the sounds of it and what her pedigree says.

5) Spare Change [pictured] - Javier Castellano, Claude McGaughey - Gorgeous near-black daughter of Bernardini, she was a winner at 7 furlongs and came in second in her debut, both maiden special weights at Saratoga. This is a champion’s pedigree: her dad, obviously, and her dam Finder’s Fee was a multiple G1 winner. With Castellano in the irons, I have reason to root this one home first: cantered home in her last start, rallies for home, great horse.

6) Harbor Mist - Ryan Curatolo, Phillip Serpe - A precocious daughter of Rockport Harbor, this filly is 2-for-3 including one stakes. She upset a heavy Repole favorite in Victory Island in the Anne M. Clare Stakes, winning going away by nearly 3 lengths. However, I think she’s a bit too eager going after that lead to last a full mile with that kind of bravado.

$300,000 Champagne Stakes (I) - 2-Year-Olds. 1 mile on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, October 6 at 5:18pm EST.

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

1) No Spin - Rajiv Maragh, Tim Ice - Battered back to fourth in his stakes debut, this Johannesburg colt has some talent, but has only managed to shine through once in his three starts when he won handily by 5 1/2 lengths. A rail spot in a big field worries me about a colt who doesn’t quite know what to do just yet. He was trapped on the rail before.

2) Speightscity - Corey Nakatani, Gary Contessa - A Speightstown out of a Quiet American mare, Speightscity proved to be the real deal and is a real threat here: he’s the only horse to have competed beyond the mile mark and he happened to win that race very easily. Castellano may have made an error leaping off this colt in favor of Union Rags, and he is seriously good enough for an upset. Watch your back— this one has some life to him!

3) Takes the Gold - John Velazquez, Rick Dutrow - Really nice Corinthian colt who has capped off his last Belmont start at a mile with a win. With Velazquez, Belmont experience, and that Corinthian speed, he has the tools here to launch a big upset. He’ll finish up front at worst.

4) Power World - Edgar Prado, Neil Howard - I like this Distorted Humor son enough to think he could have upset the Hopeful (I) where he came in fifth. He’s faced a lot of stiff competition so far and is looking for that big break, which I don’t think he’ll find here just yet.

5) Alpha - Alan Garcia, Kieran McLaughlin - One look at his maiden and you’ll realize why everyone is so high on this Bernardini colt. A homebred Godolphin entry, he broke his maiden on his first attempt and by 6 lengths over 7 furlongs. If anyone stands to outclass Union Rags, it’s Alpha. This colt’s got it and could very well win this just as handily as he did his maiden.

6) Union Rags - Javier Castellano, Michael Matz - Gorgeous Dixie Union colt who made a mockery of the Saratoga Special (II) to win by a mile (or so it seemed). Undefeated in 2 starts. Never deny a Matz two-year-old— you know they’re ready if he says they are, and this one showed it. He’s the one to beat here.

7) Right to Vote - Alex Solis, Eoin Harty - Managed to punch through his maiden on his second try over 6 furlongs at Belmont, and was second to Clip the Coupons in his debut at Saratoga. I love Eoin Harty’s training and this is an intriguing kind of horse to say the least. Could be a great horse next year when the juvenile stars fade out, but I’m not feeling him now. 

8) Invocation - David Cohen, John Kimmel - Nice dirt pedigree (Pulpit out of a Quiet American mare), but remains winless in two starts at Saratoga. He was well behind the sensational Alpha in a maiden special weight over 7 furlongs and came in third in his debut over 6 furlongs. I see him on the improving path at best; he adds blinkers to this race.

9) Laurie’s Rocket - Cornelio Velasquez, Dallas Stewart - A Bluegrass Cat colt, he struggled like the others in the Saratoga Special mud but managed a good fourth to stay strong. Broke his maiden his second try over 5 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga with a second place in his debut. Biggest longshot of the field, I don’t see him grabbing the added distance.

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Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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