Brian’s Derby Preps: The Southwest Stakes

Oaklawn Park: The Grade III, $300,000 Southwest at 1 1/16 miles

#1 Officer Alex: Son of Officer failed miserably in his acid test when a well-beaten sixth behind several of these in the local Smarty Jones, his two-turn and open company stakes debut. Tactical sort drew well and could improve off that trial run, but still, it’s tough to see him turning the tables on his rivals and some salty new shooters as well; not seeing it.

#2 Brown Almighty: Turf runner made his dirt debut in the Smarty Jones and finished fifth without threatening, so he’s in the same boat as ‘Officer, which puts him behind the eight ball today. On the plus side, that was his first start off a November layoff, so he could build on it, but he looks in too deep; tough to tout.

#3 Will Take Charge: Beautifully bred Lukas charge was a wide but determined winner of the Smarty Jones to announce his presence on the Triple Crown trail. Son of multiple GI winner Take Charge Lady improved leaps and bounds that day, so maybe he likes the track and is improving at the right time. If there’s a knock, it’s that he could regress off the big run, but again, he sure did earn that win, has a legend in his corner, and just might be this good; looms large right back.

#4 Texas Bling: Longshot ran a cracker in the Smarty Jones to lose by a neck after pressing a sharp early pace and just failing to last. On the face of it, you could argue he ran the best race, as he had to do the dirty work early and was still there late. Versatile son of sprinter Too Much Bling has two big two-turn races in a row and might be ready to fall back a bit, which means he’ll be hard-pressed to reproduce that Smarty Jones run; willing to make him prove it again.

#5 Always In A Tiz: Unlucky stretch runner was a fast closing third in the Smarty Jones after a tough stretch drive when he tipped out too late and was beaten just a neck in his two-turn debut. Son of Tiznow appears to have the biggest upside of that crew and should relish the added ground, so with an abundance of early pace, he’ll be the one to fear in the lane. The gut says we haven’t seen the best of this colt and that he’s ready to break through and be a real force on the national scene; love his chances here.

#6 Super Ninety Nine: Baffert speedster invades after winning his two-turn debut in a Santa Anita optional claimer going a mile over stablemate and highly regarded prospect Code West. On paper, this son of Pulpit figures to sit a dream trip on or just off the early pace, which puts him in an enviable spot off the far turn over a track that has been known to cater to speedy types. Baffert has padded his Hall of Fame resume in recent years by shipping and picking off these OP 3yos stakes and he appears primed to do it again; looks like the colt to beat.

#7 Fear The Kitten: Son of turf standout Kitten’s Joy was a well-beaten third behind Lukas’ Oxbow in the GIII Lecomte at Fair Grounds in his last start and now heads to Hot Springs in an effort to build off that 3yo debut. There’s an argument that he might be able to improve off that run, but even if he does, he’s still well behind more than a few in this tough spot; using underneath, if at all.

#8 Heaven’s Runway: Longshot speedster takes the blinkers off after running fourth in a sloppy two-turn stakes at Delta Downs in his 3yo debut last month. The removal of the hood might allow him to settle early, but you still have to think he’s going from this wide draw, which means all he’s doing is putting more gasoline on the fire; stop and pop likely.

#9 Channel Isle: The second from Lukas jumped up and ran a biggie in his local debut, closing from far back to win a N2L last month in a much improved effort. Stretch running son of turf champion English Channel seems to be on the come and offers an intriguing bookend to Will Take Charge’s speedy style. If the pace gets hot, he figures to be rolling late again, and while he’ll need to step forward to factor, it’s also not out of the realm of possibility; don’t sell him short.

#10 Big Lute: The wildcard enters off a smashing local debut win going six furlongs just 17 days ago and will get both the class and distance test today. Sire Midnight Lute was a late-running sprint superstar who never won a two-turn race, though this colt does get a lot of stamina on the bottom, as his dam is by Deputy Minister. The post seems destined to give him a wide trip, though one could argue that he showed the speed to make the lead (45 3/5 half-mile) in his debut, so just maybe Albarado tries to catch a flier at the start and clear the field before the first turn. There’s little denying that this colt seems to have a world of talent and it’s not like this field is loaded, but this is asking an awful lot from a horse that has all of six furlongs under his belt; tough to take at an underlaid price.

Selections:

#5 Always In a Tiz
#6 Super Ninety Nine
#3 Will Take Charge

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