May 31, 2020

Five points to ponder: Southwest

Silver Prospector wins the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes
Silver Prospector wins the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Coady Photo/Churchill Downs)

Oaklawn Park’s road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) continues in Monday’s Southwest (G3). The last scoring race with the minimum 10-4-2-1 points structure, it boasts a $750,000 purse that has attracted a couple of shippers from both coasts. But the locally based sophomores remain the ones to beat – and not just those coming out of the first Hot Springs prep, the Smarty Jones.

Here are my five points to ponder:

1. Smarty Jones winner Gold Street faces his sternest test yet.

With a three-race winning streak on off tracks, the most obvious question is how much Gold Street moves up when it’s wet. The Steve Asmussen trainee was already getting better through his first three maiden tries on fast tracks, but his most marked progress has coincided with mud or slop. A seven-length winner of a Churchill Downs maiden over next-out Gulfstream Park scorer Mayberry Deputy and Major Fed (the fine runner-up in the second Risen Star [G2] division), he has passed subsequent tests in his favored conditions.

Gold Street proved that he could withstand a pace duel on the inside in the 6-furlong Sugar Bowl S. at Fair Grounds, where he drew off convincingly. In the Smarty Jones at a mile, he readily put away his lone pace attendant and proved his effectiveness around two turns.

In the Southwest, Gold Street will encounter a combination of those two tests – a more robust early pace challenge over a tad longer 1 1/16 miles. Wells Bayou promises to dash from the rail, and American Butterfly has speed from post 5, so Gold Street could find himself between foes early from post 4. And unless the 40% chance of rain materializes, he won’t have the mud to help his cause. It’s worth recalling that since the Smarty Jones was inaugurated in 2008, only one winner has gone on to turn the double in the Southwest, Far Right (2015).

2. Silver Prospector was a sneaky fourth in the Smarty Jones.

The only graded winner in the Southwest, Silver Prospector beat two high-profile rivals in last November’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in Tiz the Law and Enforceable. Not to take the form as a true bill of their relative merits, but the result does underscore that Silver Prospector is capable in the right circumstances.

Asmussen’s go-to rider, Ricardo Santana Jr., logically stuck with Silver Prospector over his stablemates Gold Street and Shoplifted in the Smarty Jones. Lagging at the back behind Gold Street’s moderate pace, Silver Prospector was the only deep closer to improve his position and gained a couple of lengths on third-placer Shoplifted. That fourth-place effort has the look of a tightener. The son of Declaration of War will benefit from a better pace scenario and especially the step back up to 1 1/16 miles, and Santana remains aboard.

3. Answer In was a shade unlucky in the Springboard Mile.

The 3-5 favorite in Remington’s Springboard Mile, Answer In was undergoing a few new experiences simultaneously. The Brad Cox pupil was shipping for the first time, trying stakes company, and stretching out. He might have cleared all those hurdles but for traffic in the stretch. As the more experienced Shoplifted rallied in the clear, Answer In lacked a path and had to alter course to the inside. That was an intimidating spot for a youngster lacking seasoning, and although he persevered to miss by just a head, it’s tempting to play the what-if game with a clearer trip. He still recorded a 105 Brisnet Late Pace figure.

Answer In had also suffered a tough-beat loss to future stakes winner South Bend in his career debut at Churchill. Despite missing the break, tugging overeager through the field, and taking the overland route, the son of Dialed In took the lead in the stretch only to get nailed by South Bend. Answer In made no mistake next time, breaking his maiden by more than five lengths.

Considering his learning curve through just three starts, Answer In has plenty of upside. The outside post 9 suggests Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will have smoother navigating aboard the 3-1 morning-line favorite, who’s been training forwardly at Oaklawn.

4. Taishan brings an intriguing Southern California formline.

Although a subpar fourth behind Authentic in the Sham (G3) last out, Taishan warrants another chance on the trail. The Richard Baltas trainee, 2-1 that day, never looked comfortable after breaking a beat slow and failing to establish early position. The Sham has already produced one ensuing prep winner, as runner-up Azul Coast just captured the El Camino Real Derby. More than that level of form is required here, of course, but Taishan’s prior maiden win gives some reason for hope.

Two starts back at Santa Anita, the Twirling Candy colt stalked a swift pace and outstayed Tizamagician by a length. Tizamagician later broke his maiden decisively, and in his latest, checked in a close fourth to Thousand Words in the Robert B. Lewis (G3). Granted that Tizamagician is a work in progress, making the maiden form less than ironclad, but the point remains that Taishan himself is unexposed with just three starts. And heading for Oaklawn, rather than facing the Bob Baffert beasts at home, could be a shrewd move.

5. Chase Tracker has shaped with promise in New York.

Todd Pletcher would have had the headliner here with Gouverneur Morris, who instead kicked off his campaign with a sharp allowance score at Tampa last Friday. While Chase Tracker is not in his league, the son of past Pletcher celebrity Verrazano has chugged on for third in two graded events at Aqueduct.

Chase Tracker went off at a shorter price (9-2) than fellow Parx debut winner Independence Hall (9-1) in the Nashua (G3). The market got that badly wrong, but Chase Tracker was only beaten a length by stakes-winning Meru for second. Adding blinkers when stretching out in the Remsen (G2), he took up a good stalking spot, then lost position before renewing his focus down the stretch. The Remsen top two, Shotski and Ajaaweed, have come back to place in preps (the Withers [G3] and Tampa Bay Derby [G2], respectively).