Convincing Smarty Jones winner Far Right is one of 11 promising 3-year-olds seeking to advance on the road to the Triple Crown in the $300,000 Southwest Stakes, the Presidents' Day feature from Oaklawn Park Feb. 16.
Far Right captured the listed Smarty Jones in his season debut at the Arkansas oval Jan. 19 by 1 3/4 lengths. Last early with eight lengths to make up in the one-mile event, the late-running son of Notional launched his bid at the three-eighths pole and swept to a clear victory.
He was ridden that day for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who returns to Hot Springs for Monday's ride. They break from post 2 carrying top weight of 122 pounds. Far Right, who will have an extra sixteenth of a mile to work with in the Southwest, will concede either three or seven pounds to each of his rivals under allowance conditions.
Trained by Ron Moquett, for owners Harry Rosenblum and Robert LaPenta, Far Right has a 2-2-2 record in seven starts with earnings of $245,766. The chestnut colt has posted two works since the Smarty Jones, most recently breezing a half mile in :49 flat Feb. 8 at Oaklawn, much to the satisfaction of his trainer.
The three horses that followed Far Right under the wire in the Smarty Jones-in order, Bayerd, Mr. Z, and Private Prospect-are all back to challenge the likely favorite. Other leading contenders are the multiple graded stakes-placed Bold Conquest and The Truth Or Else, both making their 2015 debut.
Lecomte Stakes runner-up War Story was entered in the Southwest Feb. 13, but trainer Tom Amoss said he has decided not to run after the lightly-raced Northern Afleet gelding drew post 11. War Story will instead point to the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II0 Feb. 21 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
"It just didn't work out," Amoss said. "We drew an outside post position and there's a strong statistical negative to that post. Plus, there's a forecast for dicey weather on Monday."
The Southwest is race 9 on Oaklawn's holiday card Monday, with a scheduled post time of 5:09 p.m. CST. It is followed on the Oaklawn 3-year-old schedule by the $750,000 Rebel Stakes March 14 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 11. The race offers points toward a possible start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands to the first four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
Far Right and Mr. Z, with 12 points apiece, are currently tied for sixth in the Derby standings with Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red. There are no prior graded stakes winners in this year's Southwest field.
Zayat Stables' Mr. Z set the pace in the Smarty Jones. He was 2 1/2 lengths clear when he veered out sharply near the three-sixteenths pole after being struck left-handed by jockey Jon Court, and he looks to make amends for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The son of Malibu Moon has had a tendency to lug out in the stretch, and his Hall of Fame conditioner has been experimenting with different bridles to correct the problem.
Mr. Z worked a half mile in :49 1/5 Feb. 11, and Lukas said afterward he was satisfied.
"That's about as good as I can get him," he said. "It was a pretty work, really pretty-without incident, straight as a string. Everything's good."
Mr. Z has only a maiden win to show from nine starts, but five graded stakes placings as well, suggesting the talent is there. The chestnut colt, who leads the Southwest field in earnings by far with $514,726, was just a head behind the highly regarded Dortmund and Firing Line when third in the Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 20.
Strong-handed Corey Nakatani takes the call on Mr. Z for the first time. They must overcome the 10 post.
Clark Brewster's Bayerd was a two-time stakes winner late last year at Remington Park. He looks to improve off his runner-up finish in the Smarty Jones for trainer Steve Asmussen, who won last year's Southwest with Tapiture. Ramon Vazquez is back aboard the son of Speightstown , whose head victory in the listed Springboard Mile Dec. 14 came on a muddy track.
"He's doing great," said Asmussen of Bayerd, who has been in the capable hands of assistant Darren Fleming. "He stayed at Oaklawn and he's trained well coming up to the race. We expect a good effort from him on Monday."
Lukas and Asmussen also have second entrants in the Southwest. Lukas sends out maiden winner Majestico for Calumet Farm, while Asmussen has Leland and Robert Ackerley's Bold Conquest.
A son of Curlin , Bold Conquest has not been out since finishing a distant third behind Carpe Diem in the Breeders' Futurity Oct. 4 at Keeneland. The chestnut colt missed by just a neck when second a month earlier in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. Ricardo Santana Jr., who rode Tapiture in last year's Southwest win, is aboard Bold Conquest for the first time from post 9.
Also coming off the shelf is Harold Lerner's The Truth Or Else, who will race with Lasix for the first time. Trained by Ken McPeek, The son of Yes It's True had seven starts as a 2-year-old, winning once, and was most recently sixth in the Remsen Stakes Nov. 29 at Aqueduct Racetrack. Before the Remsen, The Truth Or Else posted a pair of distant third-place finishes in the Champagne and Nashua stakes under sloppy or muddy conditions.
The Truth Or Else blew out three furlongs in :35 1/5 shortly after the track opened Friday morning. Calvin Borel gets the call from post 5.
One up-and-coming prospect is Donald Dizney's homebred J S Bach, an 8 1/2-length maiden winner at Gulfstream Park Jan. 17 when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for his second start. The son of Tale of the Cat hails from the deep barn of Todd Pletcher, and has Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez aboard. They'll break from the rail.
Completing the field are impressive recent Oaklawn maiden graduate Kantune, Phenomenal Phoenix, and Bold Animaux. Phenomenal Phoenix, second in an entry-level allowance/optional claiming race Jan. 19 at Oaklawn, races with blinkers for the first time.