On a raw, stormy day, Apprehender was like a lightning strike in his debut at Oaklawn Park on Thursday and showed he is a contender for the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes on February 20.

Calling the gelded son of Posse one of the best horses she's ever trained, trainer Ingrid Mason needed to be convinced to race the three-year-old in the 5 1/2-furlong maiden contest because of concerns about a muddy track and the short distance. Consider those concerns dismissed after a 7 1/2-length romp under jockey Inosencio Diego.

"I knew he was a nice horse and I've thought highly of him since I got him, but I never expected him to freak like that," said Mason the morning after what was her fifth win this season. "He's a running fool, this horse, and I think he's going to get better going longer. I was so worried about the distance I tried to scratch the horse, because I just want to make doubly sure with what he does."

Apprehender was awarded a BRIS Speed rating of 103, and Mason has no qualms about where to run next.

"The Southwest is where I'm going with this horse," she said. "You never know how well they might run until they do it. Now I know how well he can run."

Mason's caution with Apprehender was not because of any frailties. The gelding's owners John & Chris Robson are in the business for the first time. The Thursday race was the first start for the husband-wife team from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and they have been like new parents bringing along the gelding at their private farm. Mason says from the moment she received the horse late last year, the talent has been apparent.

"I naturally want to go slow with young horses," she said. "I never want to push them fast in the morning, but the first time I worked him from the starting gate with another horse, the rider was practically standing up in the saddle and still went in 47 and 1."

Apprehender's talent was also slightly unexpected. He is the 10th and last son or daughter out of the multiple Grade 1-winning mare Missy's Mirage. She stood for several years as a broodmare for the Jayeff B Stable and had produced offspring by Seattle Slew, Mr. Prospector, Unbridled and Deputy Minister. One fetched $2.3 million as a yearling, but the lot never did much running on the track. The combination of her falling stock and the market collapse helped John Robson's father William pick this colt out for $21,000 on the penultimate day of the Keeneland September Yearling sale.

"She was a freak herself," Mason said. "And to go to all those great horses for all those years, but they didn't do any good and they pretty much gave up on her. She was barren last year, so this is her last foal. It's just another neat thing about this horse."

Now the trainers who should be cautious are his would-be competitors, based on Mason's training of Apprehender so far.

"I've never asked this horse for his best in the morning and I've never needed to ask for his best," she said. "I don't think we've asked him for all he's got yet and I think there's still a lot more there."