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If you’re heading to Oaklawn Park this weekend, you’d better bring your rain gear. Plenty of rain is forecasted for Saturday and Sunday, and rain storms are possible for Monday as well. However, rain or shine, the special Monday card has a chance to be spectacular. As always, the highlight of the day will be the Grade 3, $500,000 Southwest Stakes. A field of 11 have entered into the race that serves as the last 10-point race on the Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby schedule.
The $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes winner Mourinho is back at Oaklawn for the second straight race for trainer Bob Baffert and is likely to be the post-time favorite. After finishing second in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes, the Super Saver colt shipped to Oaklawn with business on his mind and dominated his rivals by over 3 lengths in wire-to-wire fashion. Hot Springs native Drayden Van Dkye returns to have the mount.
Trainer Steve Asmussen went crazy here, entering four horses. Leading the charge is the Smarty Jones and $400,000 Springboard Mile runner-up Combatant who, after drawing the rail in his last two races, has finally drawn an outside post. The Grade 3 LeComte Stakes fourth-place finisher Zing Zang is also entered, as is the up-and-coming Retirement Fund, a colt that’s two-for-two so far in his young career and will be trying stakes company for the first time. Asmussen’s fourth entry is the cross-entered Principe Guilherme, but he ran a dismal seventh in Saturday’s Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.
East coast shippers played havoc at Oaklawn Park last year, such as when trainer Todd Pletcher shipped in to win the Grade 3 Southwest and Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. He’ll try to do more of the same Monday when he enters the lightly-raced Road to Damascus. The Pioneerof the Nile colt is coming off of a maiden special weight win at Tampa Bay Downs, and jockey John Velazquez will fly in for the mount.
While Pletcher, Baffert, and Asmussen steal the headlines, don’t forget about Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who enters the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes winner Sporting Chance. Following that September start, Sporting Chance had surgery to remove a bone chip and missed the rest of the year. The colt is ready to roll now and has been working out very well leading up to this race. Jockey Luis Saez comes to ride.
The Southwest will go off as the ninth on a solid 10-race card. Local post time for the race will be 5:10 PM CST. The full field from the rail out: My Boy Jack, Sporting Chance, Mourinho, Road to Damascus, Seven Trumpets, Retirement Fund, Zing Zang, Kentucky Club, Combatant, and Ezmosh.
#10 Combatant – He very well could be the type of horse that likes to finish second or third, but if you’re going to give Combatant a try, then this is the race to do it. In his last two races, he was drew the rail and never really got much of an opportunity to run until the stretch. He also didn’t have any pace to run at and did what he had to do to finish second. Here, everything changes for him, and it should be in his favor. He draws outside, and the pace setup should favor him. The price could be right, as well, which makes him too intriguing to not take a swing.
#4 Mourinho – The Smarty Jones winner is back with two in a row on his mind, but the pace setup here could be much different than last time out. He was all alone on the lead in the Smarty Jones, but in this race, a fuller field and the presence of other speed could prove tricky. However, two races back, he stalked the speed in the Bob Hope and still ran well enough to finish second behind Greyvitos. It’ll be a different type of test for him here, and drawing an inside post won’t help him much. Also, the distance gets just a bit longer today. Does he truly want to go this far? Too many question marks prevent him from being the top pick at a short price.
#7 Retirement Fund – His speed figures haven’t been off the charts, but at the same time, I don’t believe we’ve seen his best race yet. Both of his victories came fairly easily, and he draws a solid post position with an opportunity to stalk the speed. We’ll find out if he’s ready for top class company.
#5 Road to Damascus – This horse is scary but also a little bit unpredictable. On the one hand, it’s Pletcher and Velazquez teaming up at Oaklawn Park, but when you watch this horse’s replays, he doesn’t look fantastic. However, we all know that Pletcher horses can jump up and run huge on the Kentucky Derby trail, and he fits that bill. Pletcher won the Southwest last year for the same connections and will be dangerous once again this year.
#2 Sporting Chance – There’s plenty to like about this colt. Already a Grade 1 winner, he looked to be a serious player after his two wins at Saratoga last summer, but an injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. That could have been a blessing in disguise, though, as he comes into this 3-year-old year fresh and ready to roll. He’s been working lights-out leading up to this test, but there’s no doubt that he may need a race under his belt before he’s at his best. Take a cautious wait-and-see approach with him.
#8 Zing Zang – This is a “make one run”-type horse who’s a deep closer that’s always going to be a logical candidate to hit the board. His looks and running style reminds me a lot of Creator, winner of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Zing Zang has a lot of proving to do if he wants to live up to that billing, as he hasn’t shown Creator’s major turn of foot, but he’s quietly developing and will likely be flying under the radar for most of the prep season.
#1 My Boy Jack – They gave it a go on the dirt last time with him in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes after a nice run on the turf to start his career. He didn’t show much in that race with a fourth-place finish, but he seemed to be a little closer to the pace than normal. There’s plenty of speed up front in this spot, and a sloppy track will most likely be something that he enjoys. If the pace melts down, he can pick up the pieces.
#11 Ezmosh – His Oaklawn Park debut gives you that he could show up here with a big race, and a sloppy track could move him up. This isn’t going to be an easy spot for him, as he must move up in class in a big way, but he’s already faced some tough foes. It’s a positive sign that Gary Stevens has signed on to ride him in this spot, and he’ll be a playable long shot.
#6 Seven Trumpets – Normally, this is the type of horse that would fit well in the Southwest, but this year’s version has come up tough. It’s hard to toss a horse who finished second in the mud at Aqueduct in the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes last time out, but he may be a bit below this tough group.
#9 Kentucky Club – He improved dramatically in his last start, dominating maiden claiming company by 8 lengths. He gets thrown into the deep end of the pool here, though, as this class jump is about as steep as it gets.
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