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HOT SPRINGS, AR – After combining to win six of Oaklawn’s last nine Kentucky Derby points races, super trainers Brad Cox and Bob Baffert tangle for the first time in 2023 in Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles.
The Southwest anchors an 11-race program that also features the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles and the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older horses at 6 furlongs. The Southwest goes as race 10, with probable post time 4:57 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at noon.
Baffert, inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2009, has the even-money program favorite in unbeaten Arabian Knight (1 for 1), who will be making his two-turn and 3-year-old debut. Baffert is a four-time Eclipse Award winner (1997, 1998, 1999 and 2015) as the country’s outstanding trainer.
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Baffert has won the Southwest a record-tying five times, including last year with Newgrange, and has 18 victories overall in Kentucky Derby points races at Oaklawn. That is also a record. Arabian Knight is the most lightly raced horse Baffert has brought to Oaklawn for a Kentucky Derby prep.
Cox, whose career is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, counters with strength in numbers. Already armed with six of the top 19 horses on the latest Kentucky Derby points leaderboard, Cox is scheduled to send out unbeaten stakes winner Corona Bolt, stakes winner Jace’s Road and Hit Show, a Dec. 17 entry-level allowance winner at Oaklawn. Cox was honored with an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer of 2020 and 2021.
“Brad has got a great stable,” the Southern California-based Baffert said. “He manages them really well for having a big stable and he works hard at it. He’s got great clients and I have great clients. Brad Cox – he’d be in the SEC. That’s the way it goes.”
The projected Southwest nine-horse field from the rail out: Sun Thunder, David Cabrera to ride, 117 pounds, 10-1 on the morning line; Corona Bolt, Flavien Prat, 117, 6-1; Jace’s Road, Joe Talamo, 119, 4-1; Western Ghent, Cristian Torres, 117, 20-1; Frosted Departure, Francisco Arrieta, 117, 15-1; Arabian Knight, John Velazquez, 117, even money; Red Route One, Ricardo Santana Jr, 117, 10-1; Hit Show, Manny Franco, 119, 10-1; and El Tomate, Orlando Mojica, 117, 30-1.
Arabian Knight, in his only start, was a front-running 7 ¼-length winner on the Breeders’ Cup undercard Nov. 5 at Keeneland. Racing over a fast main track, Arabian Knight covered 7 furlongs in 1:21.98 to generate a gaudy 97 Beyer Speed Figure.
“He ran really well first out at Keeneland,” Baffert said. “Shipped him and he handled the shipping. Ran really well. I gave him plenty of time. It was a big effort. There’s a race I could have run him in out here going seven-eighths. It would have been a nice prep for him, but I would rather run him long and see how he handles it. I think we’re all in the same boat – see where our horses fit right now. Do they want to go long? Do they not want to go long? So, you’re looking for answers. That’s what the preps are for. You race and find out what your horse is going to like for the future. We thought it was a good spot.”
Baffert said he chose the Southwest over the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) at 7 furlongs Sunday at Santa Anita. The Southwest is Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races, a series that continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1. The Southwest will offer 40 points (20-8-6-4-2, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.
Arabian Knight is ineligible for Southwest qualifying points because of Baffert’s two-year suspension by Churchill Downs, stemming from his Medina Spirit being disqualified from a 2021 Kentucky Derby victory for a medication violation. The case is under appeal.
Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. (Amr F. Zedan) campaigns Arabian Knight after purchasing the son of champion Uncle Mo for a sale-topping $2.3 million at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training. Arabian Knight has eight workouts at Santa Anita since Nov. 28 in advance of his 3-year-old debut.
“He’s had enough time,” Baffert said. “I would rather run him than train him.”
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Cox won Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race this year, the $250,000 Southwest Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1, with unbeaten Victory Formation (3 for 3). Like the speedy Victory Formation, Corona Bolt (2 for 2) will be making his two-turn and 3-year-old debut in a Kentucky Derby points race at Oaklawn.
From the first crop of millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro, Corona Bolt was a front-running 6 ¾-length winner of the $100,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds. Corona Bolt came from just off the pace to win his Nov. 19 career debut at Churchill Downs going 6 ½ furlongs.
“He’s a horse that seems to, obviously, have natural speed and shut off,” Cox said. “Honestly, he reminds me a good bit of Victory Formation. He’s only run two times going short and I do think he’ll stretch. He seems like a quality horse.”
Jace’s Road exits a front-running 5 ½-length victory in the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds. It was a bounce-performance for Jace’s Road, who finished eighth, beaten 36 lengths, in his previous start, the $200,000 Street Sense Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 30 at Churchill Downs.
“No good in the Street Sense,” Cox said. It was a muddy track; acted up behind the gate. Things didn’t go quite well. He ran big at the Fair Grounds.”
Hit Show will be making his stakes debut after winning 2 of 3 career starts, including a 3 1/2-length entry-level allowance score last month.
“It was a mile and I do think he is a horse that will be better with ground,” Cox said. “He’s a Candy Ride out of a Tapit mare, so I only think distance will help.”
In addition to Victory Formation, Cox has three other victories in Kentucky Derby points races at Oaklawn. He won the 2021 Smarty Jones with Caddo River, 2021 Southwest with champion Essential Quality and the 2022 Arkansas Derby with Cyberknife. During that nine-race span, Baffert also won the 2021 Rebel with Concert Tour. Baffert has won the Rebel a record eight times and has four victories in the Arkansas Derby. He’s also won the Smarty Jones once.
“We’ve got a long way to go to catch Bob Baffert, but we do have a good group of horses,” Cox said. “There are other good horses on the grounds that I’m sure will be factors in the division, as well as Bob coming in from out West. We’re just trying to do the best we can.”
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