It seems logical to assume that the winner of the $500,000, Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Presidents’ Day at Oaklawn Park will be one of the six horses who started in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn last month.
After all, the Smarty Jones serves as a logical springboard to the Southwest, giving local runners a chance to get a run on the track before stepping up in class for the Southwest. However, while the Smarty Jones has been won by some talented horses through the years, they’ve had troubled doubling up in the Southwest. In fact, since the Smarty Jones was inaugurated in 2008, Archarcharch (2011) and Far Right (2015) have been the only Smarty Jones starters to prevail in the Southwest.
The Southwest has generally been dominated by out-of-state shippers in recent years, including five winners from California. I think there’s a good chance that these trends will continue in Monday’s renewal of the race, and I plan to bet on that opinion.
Granted, the 2019 Smarty Jones Stakes winner #1 Gray Attempt is a talented horse. He’s got excellent early speed and is already a two-time stakes winner for trainer William H. “Jinks” Fires, who conditioned the aforementioned Archarcharch. In the Smarty Jones, Gray Attempt was quick into stride, secured an uncontested lead, and fought on gamely down the homestretch to prevail by a neck.
The race produced a very crowded finish — the top three were separated by just a half-length, and the top five by just 2 ¼ lengths. That can be a sign of a weak race, and the winning Beyer Speed Figure (84) hints at the same.
For win purposes, I’m tempted to take a stand against the entire Smarty Jones field and instead focus my attention on #3 Cutting Humor, #5 Jersey Agenda, and #7 Sueno. I’m particularly interested in the latter colt, as he ships in from California for trainer Keith Desormeaux, who sprung an 8.80-1 upset in this race last year with My Boy Jack. Desormeaux doesn’t send horses to Oaklawn all that often, but he’s won with two of his last five starters at the Hot Springs, Ark. oval and nearly sprung a 112-1 upset with Sonneteer in the 2017 Rebel Stakes.
Sueno enters the Southwest off a solid runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. While that race wasn’t any faster than the Smarty Jones, Sueno did race relatively close to a fast early pace and could have room for improvement with a better setup on Monday. The distance should be no issue and he’ll carry just 117 pounds, five less than Gray Attempt.
Jersey Agenda also warrants respect after winning two straight races in convincing fashion for Oaklawn’s leading trainer, Steve Asmussen, including a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn last month. The Jersey Town colt figures to challenge Gray Attempt for the early lead and has posted comparable Beyer and BRIS Speed Figures, making him a danger on the front end.
As for Cutting Humor, he was beaten in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park last time out, but the winner, Bourbon War, is a nice colt and Cutting Humor did not get off the best of starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher knows how to win at Oaklawn Park — he’s gone 12-for-30 here since the start of 2014, winning five Derby preps during that time frame — and Cutting Humor will benefit from having Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the saddle.
My strategy will be to box these three contenders in the exacta, my belief being that the Smarty Jones runners could struggle to finish in the top two. I’ll also play Sueno to win, since he would be my narrow first choice and should offer a decent price.
Wagering Strategy on a $25 Budget
$7 to win on #7 Sueno
$3 exacta box: 3,5,7 ($18)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!