Stakes Advance - Southwest (G3)

Compiled by Robert Yates

Dating to 2021, nationally prominent trainers Brad Cox, Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen and Kenny McPeek have combined to win 11 of Oaklawn’s last 13 Kentucky Derby prep races.

All can build on their total in the $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes Saturday at Oaklawn, a 1 1/16-mile race that is Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby qualifying races.

Probable post time for the Southwest, the 11th of 12 races, is 4:42 p.m. (Central). First post is 11:30 a.m.

Three other stakes races will be run Saturday – $250,000 Martha Washington for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, $150,000 King Cotton for older horses at 6 furlongs, and the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older fillies and mares at 6 furlongs.

Originally scheduled to be run Jan. 27, the four stakes races were postponed one week after winter weather prompted Oaklawn to cancel racing Jan. 14 and Jan. 19-21.

The Southwest will offer as many as 42 points to its top five eligible finishers (20-10-6-4-2, respectively) for the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown. 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.

The 12-horse Southwest field from the rail out: Maycocks Bay (#1), Francisco Arrieta to ride, 117 pounds, 3-1 on the morning line; Charleston (#2) , Harry Hernandez, 117, 30-1; Magic Grant (#3), Chris Landeros, 117, 30-1; Otto the Conqueror (#4), Joel Rosario, 119, 5-1; Wynstock (#5), Kyle Frey, 119, 4-1; Liberal Arts (#6), Cristian Torres, 119, 8-1; Carbone (#7), Ricardo Santana Jr., 119, 9-2; Common Defense (#8), Julien Leparoux, 117, 15-1; Linebacker (#9), Emmanuel Esquivel, 117, 30-1; Mystik Dan (#10), Brian Hernandez Jr., 117, 12-1; Just Steel (#11), Ramon Vazquez, 117, 8-1; and Awesome Road (#12), Florent Geroux, 117, 8-1.

Cox has won six of Oaklawn’s last 13 Kentucky Derby prep races, including the first this year’s $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes with Catching Freedom. He vies for his second Southwest victory with Awesome Road, who will be making his 3-year-old debut after closing 2023 with dull efforts in the $600,000 G1-Breeders’ Futurity Stakes Oct. 7 at Keeneland and $400,000 G2-Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs. Both races were 1 1/16 miles. The son of Quality Road has been heavily bet in all three career starts, but only competitive in one, a debut victory sprinting Aug. 27 at Ellis Park.

“People, I’m sure, have watched him breeze and get excited like we have,” said Cox, who won the 2021 Southwest with champion Essential Quality. “Look, he’s got to step up, obviously. Little bit of a tough draw, but it might work out. I’d just like to see him run a little better than he has in his last two. He didn’t really show us in the afternoons what he showed us in the mornings. He was impressive first time out, but we’ve obviously got to get him to take it to a different level in the afternoons. He’s continuing to train well. That’s why we’re taking a swing on Saturday. We’ll see how it goes.”

Baffert bids for his third consecutive Southwest victory and record-extending seventh overall with Wynstock, who will be making his 3-year-old debut and first start outside California.

Wynstock, who has won his last two starts, is ineligible for the Kentucky Derby, owing to Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Downs. He exits a half-length victory in the $200,000 G2-Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 16. In his first start around two turns, Wynstock broke his maiden by 7 ½ front-running lengths at one mile Oct. 15 at Santa Anita.

“We’ll find out how he fits with that group up there,” Baffert said. “Everybody’s sort of in the same boat. You’re coming in there with some nice horses in there. See how he handles everything.”

Asmussen is scheduled to send out Otto the Conqueror (3 for 4) and unbeaten Carbone (2 for 2) in search of his fourth Southwest victory. Otto the Conqueror hasn’t started since a three-quarter length victory over previously unbeaten Glengarry in the $300,000 Springboard Mile Dec. 15 at Remington Park. The Springboard Mile was Otto the Conqueror’s first start around two turns.

Carbone, from the first crop of champion sprinter Mitole, has led at every point of call in winning his two starts by a combined 12 lengths. After a dazzling debut victory sprinting Nov. 19 at Churchill Downs, Carbone cleared his first allowance condition by four lengths in his two-turn debut Dec. 31 at Oaklawn.

“All of tomorrow is worry about the weather,” Asmussen said. “Just wearing ourselves out looking at the weather app. “Obviously, the racetrack’s struggled a little this year with it.”

McPeek trains the speedy Mystik Dan, fifth in the Smarty Jones, and supplemental nominee Common Defense, who broke his maiden at one mile Jan. 13 at Oaklawn.

Just Steel held a narrow lead late in the Smarty Jones before finishing second, 2 ½ lengths behind Catching Freedom. Just Steel was exiting a sharp 2 ½-length victory in the $225,000 Ed Brown Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

“This is a big, strong horse,” Lukas said. “He actually, I think, put on weight since he ran in the Smarty Jones. We talked about skipping this (because of the one-week delay) and going straight to the Rebel. But if we did that, we’d have to put some serious works into him because he needs work. He’s a big, powerful horse that probably can’t stand that kind of prosperity. I would say he’s put on 25, 30 pounds.”

Late-running Liberal Arts has already collected 13 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for trainer Robert Medina, the bulk coming from a 2 ¾-length victory in the 8 ½-furlong $200,000 G3-Street Sense Stakes Oct. 29 at Churchill Downs. The Street Sense was the first start around two turns for Liberal Arts, from the final crop of deceased champion Arrogate, and the first career graded stakes victory for Medina, a former assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey who started his first horse in 2020. He’ll be making his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest, a race Medina has targeted since early November.

“On paper, there looks like a lot of horses that want to be up front, mixing it up, up close, which, if that materializes, that would be perfect for me,” Medina said. “But usually when you see that, it doesn’t materialize. But he’s drawn well. This track seems to be playing fair, from what I see. Being that he’s coming off a little freshening, I think he’s going to be a little fresh. I hope not too fresh, but I think he’ll be in a good spot. He’s not a horse that’s going to be up there close. He’ll be a little farther back and, hopefully, make his run and have something to run into.”

Program favorite Maycocks Bay, another supplemental nominee, exits a front-running 10 ¾-length off-the-turf allowance victory at 1 mile 70 yards Jan. 7 at Fair Grounds for trainer Michael Stidham.

Magic Grant finished third in the Springboard Mile for trainer Eddie Milligan Jr. Linebacker, a three-race maiden, adds blinkers for trainer Jordan Blair. Charleston, trained by Jinks Fires of Hot Springs, is a four-race maiden.

Winter weather also delayed the Southwest five days in 2010 and 12 days in 2021. The Southwest has a record purse in 2024 after previously being worth $750,000.


Oaklawn’s Road to the Kentucky Oaks begins with the Martha Washington, which will award 42 points to its top five finishers (20-10-6-4-2, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the country’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies.

Cox, who swept Oaklawn’s three-race Kentucky Oaks series last year with Wet Paint, is scheduled to start two runners, notably 6-5 program favorite Denim and Pearls, in the 1 1/16-mile race. Denim and Pearls, by Into Mischief, won her first two career starts before finishing second in the one-mile $200,000 Year’s End Stakes at Oaklawn. The Year’s End was her first start around two turns.

“Really had no intent on running in the Martha Washington with the original date of the race,” Cox said. “But with it being pushed back a week, felt a little more comfortable about taking a swing. Hopefully, we can have a little better outcome than last time. She’s got a big pedigree and the stakes placing helped. Hopefully, we can possibly make her a stakes winner. We’ll see how it goes.”

Denim and Pearls is scheduled to break from post 8 under Geroux. In Good Taste, a Dec. 8 Oaklawn maiden special weight graduate, drew the extreme outside, post 9, for Cox. Neom Beach returns after a third-place finish in the Year’s End for Asmussen.

The Martha Washington has a record purse in 2024 after previously being worth $200.000.


The freakishly fast Skelly bids for his seventh consecutive victory in the King Cotton, a six-furlong race Asmussen won last year with now-retired millionaire Grade 1 winner Gunite.

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

Skelly opened the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting with a front-running 1 ¼-length victory over fellow King Cotton entrant Edge to Edge in a Dec. 30 allowance sprint. Skelly, in his first start since late May, ran six furlongs in a meet-best 1:09.66.

“Beautiful race,” Asmussen said. “Always fun to run him. He’s been good at winning.”

Skelly, the 7-5 program favorite, is scheduled to break from post 8 under Santana, the gelding’s regular rider.

Also entered are Oaklawn stakes winners Tejano Twist, Ryvit and Jaxon Traveler and 2023 King Cotton third Miles Ahead. Asmussen (Skelly, Ryvit and Jaxon Traveler) and 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman (Tejano Twist, Edge to Edge and Excess Magic) have six of the eight entrants.


The well-traveled Grade 2 winner Alva Starr launches her 4-year-old campaign in the American Beauty for trainer/co-breeder Brett Brinkman.

Alva Starr has raced at five tracks and finished first or second in all six lifetime starts. She captured the $100,000 Dashing Beauty Stakes July 8 at Delaware Park and the $250,000 G2-Prioress Stakes Sept. 2 at Saratoga. She led at every point of call in both six-furlong races.

Alva Starr is unraced since finishing second, beaten a half-length, in the seven-furlong $350,000 G2-Raven Run Oct. 21 at Keeneland. She opened her 2023 campaign with a runner-up finish in an allowance sprint last May at Oaklawn.

“She packs it (track) with her,” the Fair Grounds-based Brinkman said. “We hope it’s the same case. This is going to be a rare instance where she gets to run over the same track twice.”

Alva Starr, the even-money program favorite, is scheduled to break from post 4 under Torres, Oaklawn’s 2022-2023 riding champion.

Alva Star faces eight rivals, including the Asmussen-trained High Class. High Class has won her last three starts, including the $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes at 5 ½ furlongs Dec. 30 at Oaklawn.