Gray Attempt has nothing but 1s in his last three running lines, and Monday at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., he will try to finish No. 1 again in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
Probable post time for the Southwest, the ninth of 10 races on a special Presidents Day card, is 5:09 p.m. CT. Doors open Monday at 11 a.m., with first post 1:05 p.m.
The Southwest is Oaklawn's second of four major preps for the Kentucky Derby and offers 17 points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Run for the Roses. Owned by Dwight Pruett of Texarkana, Ark., and trained by Jinks Fires of Hot Springs, Gray Attempt has led at every point of call in his last three starts, including the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 25 at Oaklawn, his third victory in four lifetime races.
The speedy Gray Attempt figures to be on the lead again after drawing the rail in the 11-horse field.
“The rail, normally you don't want it, especially if you've got a horse that you're not sure is going to have any speed away from there because you get covered up,” Fires said. “He has speed. The next thing is, just hope you get lucky and get away right. I always prefer the 3 or 4 or 5, around that area, but you've to take what you draw, I guess.”
The Southwest field from the rail out: Gray Attempt, Shaun Bridgmohan to ride, 122 pounds, 7-2 on the morning line; Ninth Street, David Cabrera, 117, 30-1; Cutting Humor, John Velazquez, 117, 3-1; Boldor, Ramon Vazquez, 117, 12-1; Jersey Agenda, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117, 5-1; Super Steed, Terry Thompson, 117, 20-1; Sueno, Corey Lanerie, 117, 7-2; Six Shooter, Stewart Elliott, 117, 20-1; Bankit, Jose Ortiz, 119, 10-1; Long Range Toddy, Richard Eramia, 119, 10-1; and Olympic Runner, David Cohen, 117, 15-1.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has five entrants – Bankit, Boldor, Jersey Agenda, Long Range Toddy and Ninth Street – with Cutting Humor, Olympic Runner, Six Shooter, Sueno and Super Steed completing the field. Long Range Toddy (second), Boldor (third), Six Shooter (fourth), Bankit (sixth) and Super Steed (seventh) also ran in the one-mile Smarty Jones.
The Smarty Jones marked Gray Attempt's first start around two turns. The gray colt by Graydar maintained a clear advantage through a :46.86 half-mile and held off Long Range Toddy by a neck in 1:36.94, the second-fastest Smarty Jones in history.
“We're not 100 percent sure we want to be on the lead all the way, that way,” Fires said. “But as long as he's in a stalking position or … when the gates open, it's up to the jock. My job's done when they leave the paddock.”
Bankit and Long Range Toddy and Ninth Street are stakes winners for Asmussen, a nine-time training champion at Oaklawn. Jersey Agenda was a powerful Jan. 26 entry-level allowance winner, and Asmussen's go-to jockey at Oaklawn, Santana, opted to ride the Jersey Town colt back in the Southwest.
Program favorite Cutting Humor will be trying to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fifth victory in the last 10 Kentucky Derby points races at Oaklawn. Pletcher won the Southwest (One Liner) and Rebel (Malagacy) in 2017 and the Rebel and Arkansas Derby last year (Magnum Moon).
Cutting Humor finished second in his last start, a first-level allowance Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park. Footnotes from the official race chart said Cutting Humor “lunged at the start” of the 1 1/16-mile race.
“Very green horse, still,” said Velazquez, who has ridden the son of First Samurai in 2 of 4 lifetime starts. “Not very sure of what he needs to do yet. I think if he puts his mind on running, he has a good chance. Hopefully, he'll pay attention better than last time. He's definitely a talented horse. Just needs to put his mind on it.”
Southern California-based trainer Keith Desormeaux bids for his second consecutive Southwest victory with Sueno, who exits a runner-up finish in the $100,702 Sham Stakes (G3) Jan. 5 at Santa Anita. Desormeaux said he hopes the Southwest is a bridge to the $1-million Santa Anita Derby (G1) April 6 at Santa Anita, its final major Kentucky Derby prep.
“I feel fine with any post,” Desormeaux said. “It's up to the jockey. Jockeys have to have hands. Jockeys have to have a clock in their head. This horse has got speed, but he'll also rate. Seven hole, well that's perfect.”
Six Shooter adds blinkers for trainer Paul Holthus of Hot Springs. Olympic Runner makes his stakes debut for trainer Mark Casse after a front-running 5 ¾-length off-the-turf maiden victory Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park.
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