Having so far dominated the Kentucky Derby (G1) preps held at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, trainer Brad Cox will look to continue the trend Saturday at the latter oval in Hot Springs when he sends out three of the nine three-year-olds entered in the $750,000 Southwest (G3).
The 1 1/16-mile Southwest received a boost in Derby qualifying points this year, with the top five finishers eligible for respective points of 20-8-6-4-2. The Southwest’s most noted winner in recent years was the Cox-trained Essential Quality, who went on to win the Belmont S. (G1) and earn champion three-year-old honors in 2021.
Cox trainees Corona Bolt and Jace’s Road enter the Southwest with differing records. From the first crop of Bolt d’Oro, Corona Bolt has lived up to his moniker winning twice in sprints, including a 6 3/4-length tour de force in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl S. at Fair Grounds on Dec. 26.
Later on that same card, stablemate Jace’s Road rebounded from a poor showing in his previous start over a sloppy track to win the 1 1/16-mile Gun Runner S. in wire-to-wire fashion by 5 1/2 lengths. The form of that race received a slight boost last weekend when Gun Runner third Determinedly beat allowance foes at Fair Grounds.
The third Cox entrant is the stakes debuting Hit Show, a gray son of Candy Ride who exits a 3 1/2-length allowance win at Oaklawn going one mile. It was the second win in three starts for Hit Show, whose streak of starting as the post-time favorite will inevitably end in the Southwest.
Arabian Knight, who was unveiled Breeders’ Cup weekend at Keeneland, lived up to the hype in a seven-furlong maiden with a 7 1/4-length score over the aforementioned Determinedly. An odds-on favorite, he was awarded a 104 Brisnet Speed rating. However, as he is trained by Bob Baffert, who is currently suspended from racing at Churchill Downs, Arabian Knight is ineligible to accrue Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the Southwest.
The remainder of the field figure to be longer shots. Best among them include Red Route One, 1 1/2 lengths fourth to Instant Coffee in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last time, and Sun Thunder, a son of Into Mischief who enters off a dominating maiden win over a mile on New Year’s eve.
Earlier in the card, six three-year-old fillies vie in the $200,000 Martha Washington S., also at 1 1/16 miles. The top five finishers will respectively receive 20-8-6-4-2 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
The leading candidates are Defining Purpose, who dominated the one-mile Year’s End S. at Oaklawn in her juvenile finale, and Olivia Twist, who enters undefeated from three starts, including the Trapeze S. at Remington Park.
Grade 1-winning sprinter Gunite makes his season debut Saturday in the $150,000 King Cotton S. going six furlongs. Winner of the Hopeful (G1) at two, the Gun Runner colt won four stakes last term, including the Amsterdam (G2) at Saratoga. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Gunite was a last-out fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) in his only two-turn attempt to date.
Others that will merit some attention in the King Cotton are the multiple stakes winners Miles Ahead and Flash of Mischief.