Southwest Stakes Recaps

Compiled by Robert Yates

Contact: Chris Ho, Vice President of Marketing,, 501-623-4411 ext. 4201

Friday, Feb. 2, 2024

SKELLY - King Cotton Stakes - 74th Running - Photo Credit: Coady Media

BAND OF GOLD - Martha Washington Stakes - 46th Running - Photo Credit: Coady Media

ALVA STARR - American Beauty Stakes - 41st Running - Photo Credit: Coady Media

MYSTIK DAN - Southwest Stakes G3 - 59th Running - Photo Credit: Coady Media

Mystik Dan darted through a hole on the inside turning for home en route to an eight-length victory in the $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-oldson a soggy Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn.

Mystik Dan collected 20 qualifying points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby with the victory, his second in five starts overall. Brian Hernandez Jr. rode the son of Goldencents for trainer Kenny McPeek and Arkansas breeders/owners Lance Gasaway, 4G Racing (Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway) and Daniel “Banks”Hamby III.

Just Steel finished second, a neck in front of Grade 3 winner Liberal Arts, who was making his 2024 debut. It was nine lengths farther back to fourth-place finisher Awesome Road, who was followed, in order, by Common Defense, Otto the Conqueror, 9-5 favorite Carbone, Linebacker, Charleston, Magic Grant and Grade 2 winner Wynstock. Maycocks Bay, the 3-1 program favorite, was scratched because of a fever.

Racing over a muddy, sealed surface, Mystik Dan’s winning time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.67. His margin of victory was the largest for the Southwest since Super Ninety Nine (a record 11 ¼ lengths) in 2013.

Just Steel and Mystik Dan finished second and fifth, respectively, in Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race, the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 1.

Mystik Dan, after breaking from post 9 in the Southwest, was able to save ground on both turns and slipped inside a tiring Otto the Conqueror on the inside turning for home. Mystik Dan, still riding the rail, quickly collared Just Steel near the three-sixteenths pole and drew off in the final furlong.

Mystik Dan, who broke his maiden Nov. 12 at Churchill Downs, has earned $510,110.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes Feb. 24 and $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30.


Winning jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. (Mystik Dan): “I was actually thinking about it (rail after breaking from post 9) the whole way in the post parade there. I was just trying to figure out what horse I could get behind and get to the fence. I was fortunate enough, my horse left there quick enough, but not overly quick, to where I was able to get behind the leaders and make my way over to the fence. And from there, he just traveled so well the whole way. We were able to save ground on both turns. When we got to the second turn, I called on him and he picked it up. I was able to kind of just wait for a spot. When a seam opened up barely on the inside, he shot through there and did the rest for us.”

Winning trainer Kenny McPeek (Mystik Dan): “We left it (tactics) up to Brian (jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.). You can’t predict all that. But he needed to learn how to rate. He needed to learn how to settle off horses and maintain that late punch, and we’ve been doing that in the morning every day. I think we’ll probably skip the Rebel and wait for the Arkansas Derby. He’s not what I would call a horse that … I’ve run him back quick and it’s kicked me. So, I don’t think we need to do that. We just need to be patient and wait. We’ve got plenty of time and he’s a fit horse. And if we go into the Arkansas Derby, they’re going to have run their tail off to beat us.”

Second-place jockey Ramon Vazquez (Just Steel): “I think the outside position (post 10) hurt me a little bit. I had to move a little bit from there to put him into the race. I was thinking if I had a better post, he was going to be closer.”

Third-place jockey Cristian Torres (Liberal Arts): “We had a nice trip honestly, I followed the winner the whole way around. We were hoping to make a nice run at the end. He hasn’t run in three months, but we’re happy with the way he ran today. Hopefully, he comes out of this race good. Maybe we’ll see him in the Derby.”

Second-place trainer D. Wayne Lukas (Just Steel): “I might not have had him as tight as I’d like to for today, but it’s early in the year. I don’t want to have him run his best race in February.”

Third-place trainer Robert Medina (Liberal Arts): “I thought he ran very well. He was in a good spot the whole way. He looked like he was following the winner (Mystik Dan) and then had to wait a little bit. When he swung out is when he did his best running. I liked what I saw from the eighth pole home. He finished up very strong. Galloped out very strong. As the distances increase, we’ll be right there with these horses.”


Grade 2 winner Alva Starr justified her 1-5 favoritism with an easy front-running victory in the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters Saturday at Oaklawn.

Ridden by Cristian Torres, Alva Starr coasted home by 3 ½ lengths over Royal Spa in her 4-year-old debut for trainer/co-breeder Brett Brinkman.

Alva Starr’s winning time over a muddy, sealed surface was 1:10.47. Owned by P. Dale Ladner, Alva Starr ($2.60) increased her career earnings to $420,400 following her fourth victory from seven starts.

Alva Starr, was a two-time stakes winner last year, highlighted by the $250,000 Prioress (G2) Sept. 2 at Saratoga.

Alva Starr was making her first start since finishing second, beaten a half-length, in the $350,000 Raven Run Stakes (G2) at 7 furlongs Oct. 21 at Keeneland.


Winning trainer Brett Brinkman: “She’s been that kind of mare. She’s given us everything we’ve asked for. Our expectations are high.”

Winning jockey Cristian Torres: “I was on cruise control. She did all the work. I was hoping for a good break. She did. I don’t know what to say, honestly. She’s a really nice horse. She’s won all over the U.S. Just very thankful for the opportunity. She handled it (muddy track) perfectly. I think it’s the first time since ran on a sloppy track and she handled it beautifully. She broke good. Settled. On the turn, she relaxed a little. When I asked her at the quarter pole, she took off again.”


William Shively’s Band of Gold used a late burst to record an upset victory in the $250,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Saturday at Oaklawn.

The 1 1/16-miles Martha Washington was Oaklawn’s first of three Kentucky Oaks qualifying races. Band of Gold, who was ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., earned 20 points for the victory.

Denim and Pearls, the even-money favorite, finished second, a neck ahead of Neom Beach, who was followed, in order, by Tapit Jenallie, Promisemeanempire, Divine Gal, Saratoga Secret, In Good Taste and Hush It Honey.

Tapit Jenallie took the field through fractions of :23.67, :47.71 and 1:12.63 for 6 furlongs. Unhurried early, Band of Gold ($50.60) began moving toward the leaders turning for home. Hernandez steered Band of Gold to the outside in midstretch and she surged past three horses, including Denim and Pearls and Tapit Jenallie, in the final sixteenth of a mile.

Band of Gold’s winning time over a sloppy, sealed surface was 1:45.16. The daughter of Preservationist has won 2 of 3 starts overall and earned $206,000.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Oaks qualifying series continues with the $400,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) Feb. 24 and the $750,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2) March 30.


Winning jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.: “It’s one of those deals looking at it on paper, a lot of us were coming out of sprints, so there was going to be quite a bit of speed. We ended up being 24-1. We had the 2 hole, so our advantage was just going to be to save every inch of ground. And if she was good enough from the head of the lane home, she was going to get there. That’s what happened.”

Winning trainer Kenny McPeek: “It looked to me like in the paddock, a lot of them were more sprinter types. And she’s a big, leggy filly. Looked to me like she wants more ground. Worked out good.”

Second-place trainer Brad Cox (Denim and Pearls): “Just didn’t really go on down the last part of it, just like she did last time. Didn’t finish up quite as well as we expected. Look, she ran well. She had a target to the inside of her, but, obviously, couldn’t hold off the winner. She was second best today.”


Heavily favored Skelly stretched his winning streak to seven, powering to a 3 ¼-length victory over Tejano Twist in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Saturday at Oaklawn.

Under regular rider Ricardo Santana Jr., Skelly ($3.60) blasted to the lead from post 6 and wasn’t challenged through swift splits of :21.88 for the opening quarter and :44.99 for a half-mile. Skelly wasn’t threatened through the lane and completed 6 furlongs over a sloppy, sealed surface in a meet-best 1:09.38.

Skelly is a six-time winner at Oaklawn, including the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) and inaugural $150,000 Lake Hamilton Stakes during the 2022-2023 meeting. Both races were also 6 furlongs.

Skelly, a 4-year-old gelded son of Practical Joke, races for Chris Hicks (Red Lane Thoroughbreds). Skelly is 8 for 12 overall with earnings of $875,163.


Winning jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.: “That’s a nice horse, man. I’ve ridden so many fast ones, but this horse is getting is getting better and better and better. How the track was, he went :44 (half-mile) and was comfortable. Turning for home, I asked him just a little bit to give me his best. He’s a tough horse.”

Winning trainer Steve Asmussen: “This horse has just run seven or seven unbelievably fast races in a row. Congratulations to Red Lane. What a wonderful horse he’s been the past year at Oaklawn.”