Southwest Stakes Picks

California invaders have class edge in Southwest Stakes split at OaklawnPark
by Kenneth Strong, Horse Racing Handicapper,

2012 Road to the Kentucky Derby

Southwest Stakes, Oaklawn Park, Races 8 and 9, Monday, February 20, 2012
3-Year-Olds, Grade III, 1 Mile, Dirt, Purse $250,000

The 47th running of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park was forced to split when 21 horses entered, but that should prove to be a bonus to bettors who can find the right horse to beat California invaders Longview Drive and Secret Circle if thats possible.

Southwest Stakes Picks 1st Division (Race 8, Oaklawn Park)
1. Longview Drive
2. Castaway
3. Reckless Jerry
4. Junebugred

Southwest Stakes 1st Division Longshots:Unbridleds Note, Majestic Stride, Jake Mo

Longview Drivewill go favored in the first division of the Southwest Stakes off a strong third place showing in the Sham Stakes-G3 going a mile at Santa Anita on January 7. That was his first start in six weeks for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and he was coming again at the end to be beaten only a length by the undefeated Out Of Bounds and half a length by Secret Circle, who will likely be favored in the second division of the Southwest.

Longview Drive has natural speed that adds to an already speed-laden first division, and while he may not be as effective coming from off the pace, he has shown that he can pass horses. Based on his effort in the Sham Stakes, Longview Drives most compelling attribute besides proven class might be his ability to find more after pressing what should be a good pace.

The trip horse in the first division of the Southwest has to beReckless Jerry, who was beaten only a neck by rail-skimmingJunebugredin the one-mile Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on January 16 after being 5-wide throughout. Reckless Jerry finished well in that race and could turn the tables on fellow Southwest entrant Junebugred in a race that should set up perfectly for both.

Trainer Bob Baffert may take care of the other speed in the first division of the Southwest with recent Santa Anita maiden breakerCastaway, who may be up against it breaking from post 11. Baffert won the Southwest Stakes in 2010 with Conveyance and also took the last two renditions of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, so throw this one out at your own peril.

A few longshots to take a flyer on in the first division of the Southwest?

Majestic Stridecomes into the race off a sharp wire-to-wire maiden win going six furlongs on January 22 at Oaklawn and has strong sprint-to-route trainer Jeff Bonde in his corner along with underrated rider Carlos Marquez. Bonde is also winning at a 29 percent clip in graded stakes this year from 28 starts. Doubtful he can steal this one but hell likely be trying that tactic.

Unbridleds Notemakes his first start since breaking his maiden on October 30 at Churchill Downs but has the team of trainer Steve Asmussen and Julian Leparoux backing him along with a nice pedigree.

Jake Mois also likely to be overlooked in the first division of the Southwest as another speed horse, but he was only beaten 1 -lengths in the Smarty Jones after making a bid throughout and running a much improved Beyer Speed Figure of 90. At a big price he should be included in your exotics.

Southwest Stakes Picks 2nd Division (Race 9, Oaklawn Park)

1. Secret Circle
2. Cyber Secret
3. Pee H Dee
4. Z Rockstar

Southwest Stakes 2nd Division Longshots: Adirondack King, Apprehender

Secret Circleis the deserving favorite in the second division of the Southwest off his narrow -length loss to the undefeated Out of Bounds in the Sham Stakes-G3 on January 12 at Santa Anita. That was his first start off a two-month layoff for trainer Bob Baffert and improvement is expected. Top California jockey Raphael Bejarano ships in to ride and as we mentioned earlier, Baffert has won this race before. Secret Circle will likely press a pace that could be set by any number of rivals in here.

Cyber Secrethas yet to prove he can make a big run from off the pace but his wire-to-wire victory going a mile and a sixteenth at Oaklawn Park in his second start off the layoff on February 4 earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 96 a big improvement over is 2-year-old figures.

The second division of the Southwest doesnt have as much longshot appeal, with most of the remaining runners yet to show anything special on the Beyer Speed Figure scale. That being said, you always get a few 3-year-olds at this time of year that unpredictable jumps from the 70s to the 90s.

Pee H Deeran a 76 to win a NW2 allowance race in game fashion going a mile at Oaklawn Park on January 16 and could get a perfect trip just behind the speed in here. Z Rockstar finished second beaten a neck in the race won by Pee H Dee and may be a horse to key second and third in the exotics based off two hard-trying neck losses in a row.

Apprehenderscored a big Beyer Speed Figure of 98 in his only lifetime start in the mud going 5 -furlongs at Oaklawn Park on January 26 and is difficult to judge, but he has enough pedigree to stretch out and his dam Missys Mirage was a superstar for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens in New York. Its a guessing game with this one as he makes the huge class jump from Maiden Special Weight to graded stakes, but his trainer Ingrid Mason is winning at a stellar 27 percent clip.

The last horse well mention isAdirondack King, who is making his second start off the layoff for trainer John Servis, who won the Southwest Stakes in 2004 with Smarty Jones before going on to win the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Stewart Elliot, who was aboard Smarty Jones, is back for another try with Adirondack King. His numbers arent spectacular, but if he can work out a decent trip he should close late.

Good Luck!