A drenching rainstorm in the hour before Monday's Grade 3, $300,000 Southwest at Oaklawn Park changed the complexion of the track, but arguably did little to effect the outcome as even-money favorite Super Ninety Nine demolished his nine rivals in the one-mile test.
Sent to the lead by jockey Rafael Bejarano, Super Ninety Nine quickly spurted out to a 1 1/2 length lead and maintained that margin through splits of :23 1/5, :47 2/5 and 1:12 1/5. The colt then opened up on his overmatched rivals through the stretch and crossed the wire 11 1/4 lengths clear of his closest rival. Super Ninety Nine paid $4, $3.80 and $3 after completing 1 1/16 miles in the slop in 1:44 4/5.
Owned by Tanma Corporation, Super Ninety Nine gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his seventh win in the past 10 graded stakes for three-year-olds contested at Oaklawn Park. Baffert and Bejarano also swept both divisions of the 2012 Southwest with Castaway and Secret Circle.
"Rafael (Bejarano) called me before the race and I just told him to let him get away from there and do his thing," said Baffert, via phone while on vacation in Mexico. "Turning for home, I could see he had plenty of horse. It's exciting. This is the time of year when these three-year-olds start getting exciting."
A parade of longshots swept the minor Southwest prizes after stalkers Big Lute and Always in a Tiz retreated at the top of the stretch. Fear the Kitten, a distant third in the Grade 3 Lecomte last time, rallied from near the back to claim second at 22-1. He finished 2 1/4 lengths clear of the 59-1 longest shot Heaven's Runway, who had the same margin on 48-1 outsider Channel Isle. Completing the order of finish were Always in a Tiz, Will Take Charge, Big Lute, Brown Almighty, Texas Bling and Officer Alex.
A debut winner by 1 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita going seven furlongs October 7, Super Ninety Nine was upset at odds of 4-5 in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue next out, missing by a half-length to stablemate Really Mr Greely. The chestnut threw in a clunker at the same odds in a December 28 allowance at Santa Anita, but entered the Southwest off an impressive 3 1/4-length allowance tally at the Great Race Place going one mile. This initial stakes score boosted his career earnings to $266,480 from a line of 5-3-1-0.
"We'll get him back home and see how he does," Baffert said. "We know he likes the track now. I don't like to plan ahead and with these young horses, you just never know. We'll definitely have something for the (Grade 2) Rebel (on March 16)."
Bred in Kentucky by Northwest Farms, Super Ninety Nine was a $250,000 two-year-old in training purchase at OBS. The Pulpit colt is a son of the unraced Unbridled's Song mare Exogenetic, who has also reared the multiple stakes winner Elusive Horizon.
Exogenetic is herself a three-quarter sister to the ill-fated Exogenous, who captured a pair of Grade 1s -- the Beldame and the Gazelle -- in 2001. This extended family also includes Countess Diana, the 1997 champion juvenile filly.