LITTLE ROCK — Privy to early word on runners in the $300,000 Southwest Stakes, past performances downloaded, and uninterested in old news from Sochi, the plan was to cull the pretenders from Monday’s big 3-year-old race at Oaklawn Park.

Helping an eighth-grader solve systems of equations through elimination earlier in the afternoon was easier than sorting out the dozen participants. The first time through, I found a reason to keep each one.

Some are so lightly raced they have not had enough opportunities to disappoint. Others have turned in one bad effort, always easy for me to excuse. Others have demonstrated enough talent to attract solid backing at the parimutuel windows.

If this bit of amateur handicapping is close to being on target, the 1 1-16-mile prep for the Arkansas Derby and beyond offers opportunity galore for those willing to take a stand against the favorites. Written before the morning line was published, the guess is that the favorite will be Strong Mandate, Tapiture, Louies Flower or Tanzanite Cat.

The first three share interesting 2-year-old credentials, but the Southwest will be their first start as 3-year-olds and they may not be geared up for their best after at least two months away from the races.

Winner of the Smarty Jones a month ago, Tanzanite Cat is stepping up in competition.

Because of the depth of the field, the Southwest will be the best Kentucky Derby prep race so far this year.

From the rail out, one man’s excuse for giving each horse a shot:

No. 1, Tapiture: Winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, his first victory in four races. But, he showed enough to be one of only 23 horses included in a recent Kentucky Derby wager offered by Churchill.

No. 2, Coastline: The 6-5 favorite in the Smarty Jones, he was third all the way around the track and his one poor performance in his other four races can be blamed on a stumbling start. Less than 2-1 in four starts.

No. 3, Tanzanite Cat: Relinquished the lead in the Smarty Jones and then came back to win, always a good sign. He was also shipped all the way to South Louisiana to make certain he did not lose a training day to bad weather in Arkansas.

No. 4, Louies Flower: Winner of three straight, including a $250,000 race in Oklahoma on Dec. 15. He also traveled to Louisiana to work out.

No. 5, Kendall’s Boy: A winner barely a month ago in New Orleans, his only bad race came on the artificial surface at Keeneland.

No. 6, Paganol: Rallied from off the pace to win the only race of his career at Oaklawn on opening weekend. He accompanied stablemate Tanzanite Cat to Louisiana for a workout.

No. 7, Walt: Five wide the only time he was worse than second. Only 1 1-2 lengths behind Tanzanite Cat in the Smarty Jones.

No. 8, Stong Mandate: Winner of a Grade I at Saratoga, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas.

No. 9, Ride on Curlin: In the money in five of six starts against many of the best 2-year-olds in the country. Prepped with an allowance victory at Oaklawn.

No. 10, Son of Dixie: Never worse than third in five starts, he was favored against Bourbonize, an impressive winner on Jan. 10.

No. 11, Fire Starter: Only 4-1 in the Smarty Jones, he was fifth and the Daily Racing Form noted that he did not like the jockey’s attempt to settle him down.

No. 12, Bourbonize: Unbeaten in his only two races, including an eye-catching move from seventh to first by four lengths on Jan. 10.

All bases covered, "told you so" will be in play late Monday afternoon.


Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.