HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023) – Zedan Racing Stables LLC’s Arabian Knight came into Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country and lived up to the hype with a dominating 5 ½-length victory before an on-track crowd of 27,000.

Despite making just his second career start and first on a sloppy track, Arabian Knight shot to the lead like a veteran and proceeded through fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 4/5 for the first half mile. Jockey John Velazquez gave him a breather down the backside and his nearest rival, Frosted Departure, was able to get within a length of him around the turn for home, but the ending was never really in doubt. Arabian Knight had plenty left to hold off Red Route One, who closed from last to get second. The winning time was 1:43 2/5 for 1 1/16 miles over sloppy track.

Renaissance Stakes winner Frosted Departure held on for third and was followed by his stablemate Sun Thunder, Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

The Southwest carried 40 total points towards eligibility in the Kentucky Derby, but Arabian Knight is ineligible for points because of trainer Bob Baffert’s two-year suspension by Churchill Downs, stemming from his Medina Spirit being disqualified from a 2021 Kentucky Derby victory for a medication violation. Red Route One earned eight points, Frosted Departure received six points, Sun Thunder got four points and Jace’s Road got two points. Jace’s Road is currently ranked fifth on the list with 15 total points, Red Route One is ranked sixth with 13 points and Frosted Departure is ranked 16th with 6 points. Only the top 20 point-earners can start in the Kentucky Derby.

Arabian Knight, a $2.3 million 2-year-old in training purchase, is now a perfect two for two and has earned $544,275. The son of Uncle Mo returned $2.80, $2.40 and $2.20.

Two races earlier, Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Gunite made a successful 4-year-old debut and easily bested five other rivals in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters.

The heavy 3-5 favorite tracked Gar Hole through early fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 2/5 for the first half mile before assuming command around the turn for home and coasting home to a four-length victory in 1:08 4/5 for six furlongs over a sloppy track. Tejano Twist closed from last to get second and Miles Ahead also came from off the pace to get third.

Live racing resumes Sunday with a 12:30 p.m. first post. The next race in Oaklawn’s rich series leading up to the April 1 $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) is the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Saturday, Feb. 25.

Southwest Stakes Quotes:

Winning jockey John Velazquez: “He made it look easy. He broke well and I took advantage of it. Obviously, he’s pretty quick and I let him push along into the first turn. He was kind of looking around a lot. Finally got to the backstretch and I moved out from the rail a little bit, just to get him to relax. Horses were coming and he felt the noise and goes on. Second turn, I dropped in right on the rail. At the quarter pole, I went after him, and he opened up and he saw the tire track (from starting gate). I said, ‘Come on buddy, don’t do something stupid.’ I hit him once, right before we got to the tire track. He kind of hesitated and then he sees the light and I hit him one more time and all of a sudden, he takes off on me. Going to the wire I was like, ‘OK, that’s what I wanted to see.’”

Winning trainer Bob Baffert: “When he got away and got in that high cruising (speed) down the backside I thought, ‘Well, if he’s as good as I think he is, there’s no excuse.’ If he got beat today, the distance was going to get him. These good horses are hard to come by. We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this. What he did today, he ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath. This was a big effort, so he needs time in between (races). We’ll play it by ear (regarding his next start).”

Trainer Steve Asmussen, second with Red Route One: “I think the circumstances of today, who handled it (sloppy track), who didn’t, that kind of thing - obviously, the winner is an extremely nice horse. I think our horse, we’ve always been excited about being able to run him further.”

King Cotton Stakes Quotes:

Winning rider Ricardo Santana Jr.: “I was talking to Steve (Asmussen). That’s a completely different horse. Man, today he wanted to run, and you guys can see the time. I was just being a good passenger on that horse today. He was much the best. Steve has taken care of him and (Gunite) did the rest.”

Winning trainer Steve Asmussen: “He just keeps getting better and better. Just a lovely colt, great physical. Looking at the time, a (:21 4/5) the last quarter of a mile on an off racetrack - North American dirt sprints, you don’t see that. Obviously, very fortunate to have him and another great homebred of Winchell Thoroughbreds.”

Jockey Francisco Arrieta, second on Tejano Twist: “He (Gunite) ran a great race. Did you see how fast that horse went? That horse ran against the best horses last year in the Breeders’ Cup. My horse ran a great race.”