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Southwest Preview: The Champ Is Here
Essential Quality winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Credit: Coady Photography)

Southwest Preview: The Champ Is Here

After multiple weeks’ worth of weather delays, the second of four Oaklawn Park-based Kentucky Derby prep races will finally go off this Saturday with the Southwest Stakes (G3). A field of 7 sophomores will take aim at the $750,000 purse and the 2-year-old Horse of the Year Essential Quality leads the way. The Southwest is part of an 11-race program that also features the Razorback Handicap (G3) and the Spring Fever Stakes. Local post time for the Southwest is 4:58 PM.

The Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality is a perfect 3-for-3 including Grade 1 scores in the Breeders’ Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, both at Keeneland. He’ll break from the rail for his 3-year-old debut with regular jockey Luis Saez in the irons. 

The Steve Asmussen-trained Jackie’s Warrior looks like the champ’s main challenger for the second straight start. As a 2-year-old, he was the fastest of the crop and racked up big wins in the Hopeful Stakes (G1) and the Champagne Stakes (G1), both one-turn sprints. However, he failed to hit the board making his two-turn debut in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finishing fourth as the big favorite. He’ll break from post 4 with Joel Rosario coming in from California for the mount. 

Also shipping in from California is Spielberg, whose trainer Bob Baffert needs no introduction at Oaklawn Park. While Baffert’s record here is strong, this horse is a mixed bag who’s put up several dull efforts. He won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) by a nose 2 starts back and will break from post 7 with local jockey Martin Garcia aboard. 

The full field from the rail out: Essential Quality, Saffa’s Day, Last Samurai, Jackie’s Warrior, Santa Cruiser, Woodhouse, and Spielberg.

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Top Choice

#1 Essential Quality – The champ is back and will try to become the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to also win his 3-year-old debut since Nyquist did it in 2018. He should get the job done against one of the lighter prep races depth-wise, but I wasn’t super impressed with his Breeders’ Cup triumph, and Jackie’s Warrior will provide a significant threat. Still, it’s hard to go against Cox on the big stage and this colt looks primed for his debut. Win or lose, this should be a nice first step towards the Kentucky Derby. 

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#4 Jackie’s Warrior – If he has the ability to turn the tables on Essential Quality, then he has a chance with a pace setup that seems very favorable. Let’s not forget, this horse was a heavy favorite to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile because he was easily the fastest horse in the crop as a 2-year-old. However, that was his first race around two turns and he just didn’t look like the same horse. There shouldn’t be any excuses this time around.

Exotic Plays

#5 Santa Cruiser – He’s racking up the Derby prep attempts; this is already his third try. The first 2 came at Fair Grounds and they were disasters, so it’s hard to see it going any differently in this spot, but his early speed could be a dangerous weapon in a race devoid of much pressure. He’s fast enough that he could stick around late and hit the board at a big price. 

Party Crashers

#7 Spielberg – Before debuting last summer, he was supposed to be one of Baffert’s best, but he’s disappointed for most of his career. After winning the Los Al Futurity 2 starts back, he was well-beaten in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. Baffert must always be respected at Oaklawn Park because he boasts a tremendous record there, but this horse leaves a lot to be desired. 

“His last race, he just never really got into it,” Tough Luck Bob said. “Struggled all the way around there. But he came back and worked well, and so I thought, ‘You know what? I know it’s going to be a short field and the races are sort of on top of each other.’ I thought I would give him another chance.”

Throw Outs

#2 Saffa’s Day – He broke his maiden over this track last time out, but it was close and the race didn’t come back strongly from a speed figure perspective. He’ll need to prove his class against a much tougher field. 

#3 Last Samurai – It’s not surprising to see trainer Dallas Stewart taking a shot here, but this horse needs major improvement from a speed figure standpoint to have a chance here. He looks a bit outclassed. 

#6 Woodhouse – After breaking his maiden on debut at Remington Park, he ran well in his second career start, finishing third at 16/1 in a recent allowance over this track. The waters get awfully deep in this spot, though, which is why his chances looks slim. 

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