Oaklawn Park’s road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve continues on Monday with the $500,000, Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, and perhaps the most striking fact about the 1 1/16-mile race is that it’s absolutely loaded with front-runners and speed horses.
Even with Principe Guilherme ( #3) expected to be scratched, fully six of the 10 expected starters have shown the ability to race on or near the lead, so it’s not hard to envision this race unfolding at a very fast pace. That could put the expected favorite, Mourinho (#4), at a disadvantage. Trained by Bob Baffert, the front-running son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver won the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn last month in impressive fashion, but did so by securing an easy early lead in a small field and setting a slow pace.
That setup didn’t play to the strengths of Combatant (#10), who finished second in the Smarty Jones while trying to rally into Mourinho’s slow pace. But despite this less-than-ideal trip, Combatant stubbornly chased after Mourinho in the homestretch and was beaten just 3 ¼ lengths while pulling eight lengths clear of the third-place finisher.
Combatant should receive a significantly better trip in the Southwest, as his wide draw should allow him to tuck in behind the front-runners and bide his time before pouncing in the homestretch. It’s also important to keep in mind that Combatant will be carrying just 115 pounds in the Southwest, seven pounds less than Mourinho and a big change from the Smarty Jones, in which both colts carried 115 pounds.
With this in mind, I’ll make Combatant my top choice in the Southwest and hope that he can spring a mild upset. Mourinho is a logical candidate to finish on the board, though I’ll also consider My Boy Jack (#1), third in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park last time out; Zing Zang (#8), a late-running fourth in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds; and Ezmosh (#11), beaten just a neck in a quality allowance race at Oaklawn Park last month.
Here’s how I would play the race:
Wagering Strategy A: Win Bet and Exactas
$8 to win on #10 Combatant
$4 exacta box: 4,10 ($8)
$1 exacta: 10 with 1,4,8,11 ($4)
Wagering Strategy B: Trifectas
$3 trifecta: 4 with 10 with 1,8,11 ($9)
$1 trifecta: 10 with 4 with 1,8,11 ($3)
$1 trifecta: 10 with 1,4,8,11 with 1,4,8,11 ($12)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!