2023 Southwest Stakes Recap

Arabian Knight maintained his unbeaten record with a 5 12-length victory in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park Jan. 28.

Backed into 2-5 odds on the strength of an impressive maiden victory at Keeneland Nov. 5, the son of Uncle Mo gave his backers few cause for concern. Taken straight to the lead by John Velazquez, he controlled the pace in good fractions of 22.98, 46.82, and 1:11.88 before dashing away in the straight on a sloppy track.

For the first time there were 40 points available on the Road to the Kentucky Derby from this race, on a 20-8-6-4-2 basis for the first five finishers. However, Arabian Knight was not eligible for any points as his trainer Bob Baffert is suspended from racing at Churchill Downs.

Red Route One rallied from last to take second and earn 8 points. It was his third points-scoring performance on the Derby Road following his third in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), and took his total to 13 points.

Frosted Departure had stalked Arabian Knight early on and though he couldn’t go with him in the stretch, the son of Frosted battled well to take third and earn 6 points on the Derby Road, while Sun Thunder made some headway to finish fourth and earn 4 points. Finishing fifth was the Gun Runner Stakes winner Jace’s Road, whose 2-point haul took his overall points tally to 15.

From a Kentucky Derby perspective, Red Route One was clearly the most impressive of the points-scorers and could well have the required stamina for 1 14 miles on the First Saturday in May.

By Alastair Bull

Southwest Stakes History

Once upon a time, not all that long time ago, the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park was a sleepy little stakes race held in late February or early March, with a purse ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.

Then on a sunny day in 1992, a horse named Lil E. Tee finished third in the Southwest, beaten a head for second place by Pine Bluff. A few months later, Lil E. Tee sprung a memorable upset in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Pine Bluff battled to victory in the Preakness (G1). Suddenly, the Southwest wasn’t quite so sleepy.

Serving as a local steppingstone toward the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn, the Southwest has risen steadily in prominence since Lil E. Tee and Pine Bluff launched it into the spotlight. Champions Smoke Glacken and Lawyer Ron won the race in 1997 and 2006, respectively, and fan favorite Smarty Jones stopped off in the Southwest winner’s circle prior to his runaway victories in the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Held over a mile for much of its history, the Southwest achieved Grade 3 status in 2008 and was lengthened to 1 116 miles in 2013, the same year it became an official Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race offering 10 qualification points to the winner. Champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge was the first runner of note to contest the newly-restructured Southwest, finishing sixth before going on to compete in all three legs of the 2013 Triple Crown.

The 2017 edition also came up strong as One Liner powered to victory in 1:41.85, establishing a stakes record. Distant third-place finisher Lookin At Lee went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby, reiterating the Southwest’s position as an important prep for the spring classics. With a purse value reaching $500,000 in 2016 and $750,000 in 2020, it’s safe to say the Southwest is wide awake and here to stay.

By J. Keeler Johnson