Bob Baffert has won six of the last nine graded events for three-year-olds at Oaklawn Park, including a sweep of the Grade 3 Southwest, Grade 2 Rebel and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby last year, and the Hall of Famer will be represented in Monday's $300,000 Southwest by Super Ninety Nine, who exits a sharp 3 1/4-length score over allowance/optional claiming rivals at Santa Anita. The colt's main opposition, Smarty Jones winner Will Take Charge, resides in the barn of another Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.
The 1 1/16-mile Southwest will feature a field of 10 and rewards the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 point scale. It is the last race in the "Prep Season" portion of the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system.
Rafael Bejarano will be in to ride Super Ninety Nine, who netted a field-best 103 BRIS Speed rating for his aforementioned one-mile victory on January 31. The chestnut son of Pulpit made his first three starts in sprints, including a close second in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue, before trying two turns last time, and Super Ninety Nine drew well in post 6 on Monday.
Will Take Charge will start from post 3 with jockey Jon Court. The second foal out of the multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Take Charge Lady, the Unbridled's Song colt counts Grade 1 winner Take Charge Indy as a half-brother. He broke his maiden on Keeneland's Polytrack in his second start and following an unplaced finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, Will Take Charge recorded a second in the December 9 Springboard Mile at Remington Park. He posted a hard-fought upset at 12-1 in the January 21 Smarty Jones, scoring by a neck in the one-mile test, and figures to receive much more support Monday off that encouraging win.
Texas Bling and Always in a Tiz, the respective second- and third-place finishers in the Smarty Jones, will both return for the Southwest. Cliff Berry retains the mount on the Danele Durham-trained Texas Bling, who posted a 128-1 upset in the Springboard before his fine showing last time, and Paco Lopez will be back in to ride Always in a Tiz for conditioner Dominick Schettino. Always in a Tiz experienced a troubled trip while missing by only a neck in a blanket finish last time and the son of Tiznow is eligible to show more in his second attempt around two turns.
Stakes winner Brown Almighty exited his well-beaten fifth in the Smarty Jones with a lung infection and trained Tim Ice is expecting an improved performance from the chestnut colt. Channel Isle will make his graded debut for Lukas following a nice allowance tally at Oaklawn on January 26, and Big Lute jumps straight to stakes company following an impressive 4 3/4-length maiden special weight triumph in his February 1 career debut.
Rounding out the field are Grade 3 Lecomte third-placer Fear the Kitten; stakes victor and Smarty Jones sixth-placer Officer Alex; and Presque Isle Downs stakes hero Heaven's Runaway.