While Larry Jones wasn't seeing the results in the afternoon from Super Steed in recent starts, the trainer continued to see plenty of talent in the mornings from the 3-year-old son of Super Saver and opted to keep him on the Triple Crown trail.
That move paid dividends Feb. 18 as Super Steed launched an eye-popping move in the far turn of the $500,000, Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on his way to a three-quarter-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park.
Owned by breeder Michael Pressley and Steed Jackson, Super Steed showed an ability to sustain a rally in his graded stakes debut Monday as he surged past eight rivals in the turn while racing five wide to seize a three-length lead in early stretch. He then held off a late charge from Sham Stakes runner-up Sueno, who again settled for second. The final time was 1:44.05.
The 62.30-1 upset victory Monday marked a dramatic turnaround from the past two races for Super Steed, but the son of the 2010 Kentucky Derby winner had flashed talent in the mornings and afternoons last year. After finishing second by a head in his maiden special weight debut in October at Keeneland, Super Steed rallied from 10th to win a Nov. 24 allowance-optional claiming race by six lengths on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.
Off that effort, Super Steed began to show up on watch lists for the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and he started in the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds as the even-money favorite. But Super Steed failed to fire after racing wide and finished fourth behind Gray Attempt.
In his 3-year-old debut in the Smarty Jones Stakes, Super Steed appeared to settle but not rally, finishing seventh as Gray Attempt scored a gate-to-wire victory in that Road to the Kentucky Derby points race Jan. 25 at Oaklawn.
After Monday's upset win, Jones said he thought the Oaklawn surface may have been speed-favoring on Smarty Jones Day and he wanted to give his late runner another chance to launch the powerful move he'd shown at Churchill last year. He did just that in the Southwest, which awards Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
"He's a nice horse. He got sick going into the Fair Grounds race (Sugar Bowl). It wasn't serious, but you could tell he didn't feel well. And, in the Smarty Jones they ran a merry-go-round race," Jones said.
Jones also credited winning rider Terry Thompson, who earned his first graded stakes win since guiding Outta Tune to victory in the 2012 Grade 3 Count Fleet Handicap at Oaklawn.
"Terry did a good job. He had him in a good spot. This is very good. It's been a while since Terry and I have been in this position," Jones said. "This is wonderful."
Thompson said in the Southwest, Super Steed relaxed early before delivering his impressive sustained run.
"He ran just a beautiful race. He wasn't as aggressive. The other day (in the Smarty Jones), he got shuffled back, but he was aggressive," Thompson said. "Today everything was in flow. It worked out perfect. Larry said wherever we were, make sure he gets the lead heading into stretch. He has a big heart."
Super Steed returned $126.60, $39.80, and $19.80 across the board, while Sueno paid $7.80 to place and $5 to show. Long Range Toddy finished third and returned $5.40 to show.
Trainer Keith Desormeaux saw plenty of positives in the runner-up finish by Silverton Hill's Sueno. The son of Atreides launched a late bid from the four-path but came up short.
"It would have nice to get through earlier. This horse is as legit as they come," Desormeaux said. "We are very thankful to have him in our stable."
The top finisher for trainer Steve Asmussen, who started five runners, was Long Range Toddy, who split foes at the three-sixteenths pole on his way to a third-place finish, 1 ¼ lengths behind the runner-up. The son of Take Charge Indy entered off a close runner-up finish in the Smarty Jones after winning a pair of stakes at Remington Park, including the Remington Springboard Mile. His latest three efforts have earned him 16 Derby qualifying points, which ranks seventh through Feb. 18.
Starlight Racing's Cutting Humor struggled in his stakes debut. Entered off a runner-up finish in an allowance-optional claiming race Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park, the son of First Samurai improved position into third six furlongs in but faltered late to finish seventh as the 2.20-1 favorite.
Front-running Smarty Jones winner Gray Attempt, who drew the rail in the Southwest, seized the lead out of the gate and then was immediately pressed by Jersey Agenda. Jinks Fires, trainer of Gray Attempt, thought Jersey Agenda squeezed Gray Attempt going into the first turn. Jersey Agenda took the lead briefly before Gray Attempt came back to get the advantage on the inside.
Those two dueled through six furlongs in 1:12.73 but both faded, with Gray Attempt finishing last and Jersey Agenda eighth. Gray Attempt, with Shaun Bridgmohan up, was the 3.90-1 second-choice in the race while Jersey Agenda, with Ricardo Santana Jr. riding, was the 5.10-1 third choice.
"(It's) very unsportsmanlike what they did," Fires said of the incident entering the first turn. "I don't mind them outrunning us, making us keep running. But don't come in and wipe me out."