It’s been 20 years since Smarty Jones became the first and to date only horse to win both the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park and the Kentucky Derby (G1). The connections of a dozen three-year-olds hope history will repeat itself sooner rather than later in that regard, beginning with the 2024 renewal of the Southwest on Saturday.
With a total purse of $800,000, the 1 1/16-mile Southwest also offers Derby qualifying points of 20-10-6-4-2 to the respective top five finishers. The Southwest also kicks off the graded portion of Oaklawn’s classic preps, which will be followed later in the meet by the Rebel (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1).
Among those already on the Derby points leader board are Liberal Arts and Otto the Conqueror. Third in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series’ first race, the Iroquois (G3), Liberal Arts rebounded to take the Street Sense (G3) in late October by 2 3/4 lengths in the slop.
Otto the Conqueror also fared well on an off track, taking the Dec. 15 Remington Springboard Mile following a prolonged stretch duel with Glengarry. It was a noticeably slow renewal, but the Steve Asmussen trainee earned a better win two back in an allowance, in which he defeated eventual Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) scorer Honor Marie and Just Steel, who exits a second in the Smarty Jones S.
Asmussen also saddles one of the more intriguing stakes newcomers in the Southwest. Carbone has won both starts by a combined margin of 12 lengths, and his recent win in a one-mile allowance suggests the small step up in trip might not prove much of a hindrance to the son of champion sprinter Mitole.
Also in the lineup is Wynstock, upset winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) in December. Owing to his being trained by Bob Baffert, who remains suspended from racing at Churchill Downs, Wynstock is eligible to accrue any Derby qualifying points from his performance Saturday.
Maycocks Bay, a blowout winner in an allowance at Fair Grounds last time in his first start with Lasix, will run without the diuretic in the Southwest. Among those needing to step forward are Magic Grant, Common Defense, Mystik Dan, and Awesome Road.
Nine three-year-old fillies will vie in the $250,000 Martha Washington S., a 1 1/16-mile affair which has yielded previous Kentucky Oaks (G1) winners Rachel Alexandra and Secret Oath.
Brad Cox, who trained last year’s Martha Washington winner Wet Paint, might have the fillies to beat in stakes-placed Denim and Pearls and recent graduate In Good Taste. The Steve Asmussen-trained Neom Beach also figures to attract betting support.
Two sprint stakes on the Southwest undercard both figure to have short-priced favorites. Skelly goes for his seventh win in a row in the $150,000 King Cotton S. over six furlongs, but faces a solid group that features the capable Tejano Twist and Miles Ahead.
Alva Starr, who captured the Prioress (G3) last summer and was a narrowly beaten second in the Raven Run (G2) when last seen, is strictly the one to beat in the $150,000 American Beauty S., a six-furlong dash for fillies and mares.