Road to the Kentucky Derby: Southwest Stakes
A showdown of unbeatens highlights this week’s Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Southwest Stakes, a lucrative $750,000 race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., drew a field of nine. The morning-line favorite is trainer Bob Baffert’s Arabian Knight, who won his only career start by more than seven lengths in lightning-fast time. Trainer Brad Cox, who has dominated the early Midwest Derby points races, has entered three in the Southwest, including undefeated Corona Bolt (2-for-2), who easily won the Sugar Bowl Stakes at the Fair Grounds last time out.
Cox also trains Jace’s Road, who last month won the Gun Runner Stakes at Oaklawn, the first of the track’s four Derby points races.
The Southwest, a Grade 3 race contested at 1 1/16 miles, offers 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner and 8-6-4-2 points for second through fifth place. The remaining two Derby points races at Oaklawn Park are the Rebel Stakes (50 points to the winner) on Feb. 25 and the Arkansas Derby (100 points to the winner) on April 1.
The road to the Derby began in September 2022 and continues through April 15. The top 20 point qualifiers earn automatic entry into the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Date: Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023
Track: Oaklawn Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas
Distance: 1 1/16 mile
Southwest Stakes Analysis and Selections
Trainer Bob Baffert has won this race five times, including last year with Newgrange. This year he ships in Arabian Knight, a colt purchased for a hefty $2.3 million as a 2-year-old last year. In his lone career start at Keeneland last November, Arabian Knight crushed the field by more than seven lengths.
With Baffert in his second year of a two-year suspension from Churchill Downs, Arabian Knight is ineligible to earn Derby points in this race. If Arabian Knight runs big, look for him to be transferred to another trainer for his next start.
Trainer Brad Cox, who has three horses entered in the Southwest, is the most dominant conditioner on this year’s Derby trail. In the past month, Cox’s horses have won all three Midwest races — the Gun Runner, Smarty Jones and Lecomte. Among his Southwest trio is Jace’s Road, who won the Gun Runner in front-running fashion, but may have to deal with a lot more early speed in the Southwest.
Southwest Stakes Selections
1. Arabian Knight made his debut with high expectations and did not disappoint. The high-priced colt, sent off as the 3-5 favorite in a field of 11, led every step of the way in a 7-furlong maiden race and coasted home under jockey John Velazquez, who is aboard again. That Bob Baffert is shipping a horse with only one lifetime start to a two-turn Grade 3 race indicates a high confidence level. Even money doesn’t offer much betting value, but he’s difficult to look past.
2. At 10-1 on the morning line, Red Route One offers plenty of value underneath. With one win in five lifetime starts, he’s easy to overlook. But he has faced graded stakes company in each of his last three races and his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last time out was better than it looks on paper. He was beaten less than two lengths while running in tight quarters for almost the entire length of the stretch.
3. Trainer Brad Cox is winning everything in sight on the Derby trail and Corona Bolt and Jace’s Road are obvious contenders here. Of the two, a slight edge to undefeated Corona Bolt, who is the quicker of the two and would benefit if he can avoid an early speed duel with Arabian Knight. Corona Bolt is the only horse in the field with speed figures to match Arabian Knight, but hasn’t raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.
Southwest Stakes Betting Strategy
Win bet on Arabian Knight. Cold exacta of Arabian Knight over Red Route One.
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