Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has had a lot of luck preparing his young horses at Oaklawn for Triple Crown race success dating back to 1985 when Tank's Prospect won the Arkansas Derby and then the Preakness Stakes. In 1996, the Lukas-trained Grindstone used a second in the Arkansas Derby as a launching pad to victory in the Kentucky Derby and most recently, Oxbow finished second to his champion stablemate Will Take Charge in the 2013 Rebel Stakes before going on to win the Preakness Stakes.
The latest horse from the Lukas stable hoping to take the Arkansas path to Kentucky and beyond is Robert Baker and William Mack's Strong Mandate, the 2-1 morning line favorite for Monday's Grade 3, $300,000 Southwest Stakes. The Tiznow colt will be making his three-year-old debut in the 1 1/16-mile race after closing out his two-year-old season with a third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He will have the services of 2013 Kentucky Derby-winning rider Joel Rosario.
"We're all looking forward to it," Lukas said. "We hold this horse in such high regard. It's time to get started with spring rolling around and getting ready for the Triple Crown trail. We're excited to see him run."
While Strong Mandate has already established himself as a Triple Crown hopeful based on his form last year, the undefeated Bourbonize is hoping he can earn that distinction Monday with a good run in the Southwest. The Tiz Wonderful colt easily won an allowance race opening day January 10 and has been training well since.
"He's training well," Gorder said. "I was a little concerned about losing a breeze and some training to the weather. The same thing happened his last race and he ran well fresh. Hopefully that'll be the case again."
The Southwest Stakes is the second race in Oaklawn's series for three-year-olds and will be followed by the Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel Stakes March 15 before culminating with the $1 million Arkansas Derby April 12. The Southwest winner will receive 10 points towards qualification in the Kentucky Derby.
The Southwest is part of a special Presidents' Day card on Monday with a 1 p.m. (CST) first post. The day will also feature the $55,000 Progressive Cash Giveaway. Oaklawn will give away $1,000 after the first race on up through the 10TH race when $10,000 will be given away to one lucky fan. Guests must be present to win.