By J.J. Hysell
With a field featuring several leading Kentucky Derby contenders, Monday’s Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park should answer some early questions.
Prospects like Hopeful Stakes winner Strong Mandate, Kentucky Jockey Club winner Tapiture and Springboard Mile winner Louies Flower are all making their 3-year-old debuts. A win from any of these will be convincing and will vault them into the upper echelon of Derby lists, but they don’t necessarily need to win to remain viable candidates. A strong showing off the layoff will keep them in the mix. Tapiture must overcome the rail post, so a win for him would carry some added weight. Layoff numbers for trainer D. Wayne Lukas aren’t very high, so a win by Strong Mandate would also bode well for the colt’s star status.
It’s a different story for Coastline, Bourbonize, Ride on Curlin, Walt and Kendall’s Boy. These contenders have a January race behind them and should be primed for the 1 1/16-mile challenge. Coastline, a son of Speightstown, is specifically under the microscope as far as his ability to route is concerned. A lot of positives are notable for the mostly forgotten Ride on Curlin, who is coming into the race off a solid win in an allowance at Oaklawn in which jockey Calvin Borel adeptly hustled him from a far outside post in a 10-horse field. He’s drawn a more favorable post here (8).
Bourbonize is a Derby sleeper who gives the impression of a route-running grinder. He’ll have an excuse if there’s trouble from post 11 and an even better Derby Gauge rating if he overcomes it.
Walt, sharp in a runner-up showing to Tanzanite Cat in the Smarty Jones, adds blinkers and appeared comfortable in that equipment in a work over the course Thursday. His biggest challenge is likely distance. That’s the same concern for Tanzanite Cat, who should handle 1 1/16-miles but would be a question mark beyond that.
Kendall’s Boy is on the “bubble” of Derby contenders, but he was second to Havana in his debut and his only “off” race was on synthetic. A good performance here could thrust the son of Sky Mesa into the spotlight.
Paganol, Son of Dixie and Fire Starter are seeking to answer class questions. Paganol is taking quite a leap from his debut win, albeit an impressive one in a key race. Son of Dixie took a tough beat as the pace in an Oaklawn allowance over a sloppy track won by Bourbonize. A fast track equals a whole new ballgame for the son of Dixie Union.
Fire Starter, a son of Tapit who is half-brother of Bordonaro, flashes signs of his genetic prowess at times – but also shows shades of Tapit when rank in races. He’ll need to display some maturity and composure to take a step forward on the Derby trail.