No trainer has been more dominant in Oaklawn’s rich 3-year-old series in recent years than Bob Baffert, and he's seeking his fourth victory in the Grade III Southwest Stakes on Monday.
This year's model is Super Ninety Nine, the 7-5 morning line favorite. Baffert first won the race in 2010 with Conveyance and swept both divisions of the race last year with Castaway and Secret Circle. Baffert has won the last three runnings of the Grade II Rebel Stakes and last year won the Grade I Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister, his first victory in that race.
Super Ninety Nine, a Pulpit colt, enters the Southwest off an impressive 3 1/4-length victory in an optional allowance race at Santa Anita Jan. 31 in his seasonal debut. He broke his maiden at first asking in October at Santa Anita and then finished second in the Grade III Hollywood Prevue. His only off-the-board performance was a fourth in an allowance race Dec. 28. Rafael Bejarano will be in from California to ride.
The Southwest may be a good gauge of how well locally based 3-year-olds stack up with the rest of the country. Heading the home team is Smarty Jones winner Will Take Charge from the barn of D. Wayne Lukas.
“You’re never fully confident,” said Lukas, who will also start Channel Isle. “We do all we can to get them ready, but the tests get harder and harder at this time of year every time the grade gets added. It’s really a test of survival, and that Derby fever runs hot and deep. At this point, everybody thinks they have something, but reality is about to set in for a lot of them. We always tell our people ‘treat them all like Derby horses and let them disappoint you.’”
By chance of the draw, the first five post positions in the 10-horse Southwest field are the top five finishers from the Smarty Jones. The next five runners didn't run in the Smarty Jones.
The complete field for the Southwest, which had its distance increased from one mile to 1 1/16 mile this year:
1. Officer Alex, Luis Quinonez, 20-1
2. Brown Almighty, Terry Thompson, 10-1
3. Will Take Charge, Jon Court, 5-1
4. Texas Bling, Cliff Berry, 12-1
5. Always in a Tiz, Paco Lopez, 4-1
6. Super Ninety Nine, Rafael Bejarano, 7-5
7. Fear the Kitten, Rosie Napravnik, 15-1
8. Heaven’s Runaway, Jareth Loveberry, 30-1
9. Channel Isle, Israel Ocampo, 15-1
10. Big Lute, Robby Albarado, 6-1
Edited Oaklawn Park release