'Ninety Nine' rolls in Southwest


Super Ninety Nine rolled to an 11 1/4-length win in the $300,000 Southwest Stakes Feb. 18 for Susan and Charles Chu's Tanma Corporation, muddling the 3-year-old picture even more as the top three finishers from the Smarty Jones Stakes finished off the board at Oaklawn Park.

Conditioners of sophomores formerly in high regard at Oaklawn will likely blame track conditions for their sound defeat; the Arkansas oval dodged showers for much of the day, but the skies opened up 30 minutes before the featured race and the track was rated sloppy.

That defeat, however, came at the hands of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who dominates Oaklawn whenever he ships in to unleash his top California talent. Last year Baffert won two divisions of the Southwest with Castaway and Secret Circle, returned to take the Rebel with Secret Circle, and won the Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister.

Two turns and the slop proved no issue for pretty much only Super Ninety Nine, the even-money favorite who went wire-to-wire and drew off straight as an arrow down the lane to finish 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.84 while nine contenders crawled home in his wake. Smarty Jones Stakes winner Will Take Charge finished sixth, while the runner-up from that Jan. 21 prep, Texas Bling, was ninth.

Newcomers Fear the Kitten and Heaven's Runway put in efforts to round out the trifecta, but the show belonged to Super Ninety Nine.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano hustled Super Ninety Nine away from the gate and secured a rail spot in the opening strides, then perched aboard as the Pulpit colt got the quarter in :23.33. He let his mount out a notch when pressured by Heaven's Runway just before the half in :47.49, and the colt easily responded to maintain his 1 1/2-length lead. Big Lute chased the top two and made a bid after three-quarters in 1:12.29, but was never a threat as Super Ninety Nine cruised off the second turn and into the stretch to open an eight-length lead.

From the top of the lane to the finish line it was all Super Ninety Nine, as Bejarano wrapped up late with the stragglers in his wake. Fear the Kitten made a five-wide rally but was no match for second, while Heaven's Runway fought back 2 1/4 lengths behind him for third.

Super Ninety Nine paid $4, $3.80 and $3, while Fear The Kitten returned $11.60 and $6.60 with Heaven's Runway bringing $11.60 to show.Channel Isle, Always In a Tiz, Will Take Charge, Big Lute, Brown Almighty, Texas Bling, and Officer Alex completed the order of finish.

Racing pundits will recall Super Ninety Nine from the days leading up to the 2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park; highly-regarded, he was scratched from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint after injuring himself in the stall the night before the race. The colt came off a 3 1/4-length allowance win going a mile at Santa Anita over stablemate Code West on Jan. 31.

Super Ninety Nine was bred in Kentucky by Northwest Farms out of the Unbridled's Song mare Exogenetic. Becky Thomas pinhooked him for $200,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale when he was consigned by Three Chimneys Sales, agent; he was purchased for $260,000 from the 2012 Ocala Breeders Sales Co.'s June 2-year-olds and horses of racing age sale by Susan Chu when consigned by Thomas' Sequel Bloodstock.

Oaklawn's series of prep races on the road to the Kentucky Derby continues with the $600,000 Rebel Stakes on March 16 and culminates in the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 13; the Southwest Stakes victory earned Super Ninety Nine 10 points on the Kentucky Derby trail.