As the country celebrates the lives and work of our great presidential leaders today, the derby trail shifts its focus from California and Louisiana to the great state of Arkansas. Hot Springs, Arkansas is best known for its natural spring water that flows from the ground and the touring locations in Hot Springs National Park. But, the city is also home to historic Oaklawn Park, site of the Grade III Southwest Stakes.
Owned by the Oaklawn Jockey Club, Inc., Oaklawn officially opened for racing purposes in 1905. The Southwest Stakes (1 mile) serves as the first leg of the local prep races leading to the G.I Arkansas Derby with the G.II Rebel Stakes serving as the second leg. The most notable winner to sweep all three races was 2004 Kentucky Derby Champion Smarty Jones. With a field of 11 horses set to break from the gate this afternoon, the road to Kentucky through Arkansas begins.
Early favorite is JP’s Gusto, owned by Dr. John Waken. Dr. Waken created quite a stir in the racing world by transfering JP’s Gusto from David Hoffmans’s stable in California to Joe Petalino in Arkansas earlier this year. Petalino has a lively horse (he is the only graded stakes winner in the field) and he looks like the one to beat this afternoon. But, can JP’s Gusto make a smooth transition to dirt and can he win at longer distances? In his only start on dirt, he finished 6th in BC Juvenile and his biggest wins as a 2 yr old were in sprint races on synthetics.
Caleb’s Posse has a win over the track in the Smarty Jones Stakes at the same distance. D. Wayne Lukas sends Smarty Jones starters Bonaroo and Derivative. Also in the field is Elite Alex, son of 2005 Arkansas Derby winner Afleet Alex. Elite Alex finished second by a head in an optional claiming race at a one-mile distance as well. Several horses in the field are looking at this race as a springboard to generate graded stakes winnings. With a large field and several live horses, it looks to be an interesting race that will sharpen the focus of racing in Arkansas as we approach the month of March.
Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
- Caleb’s Posse E. Razo, Jr. D. Von Hemel 9-2
- Derivative T. Thompson D. Lukas 8-1
- Ghost Is Clear C. Lanerie M. Maker 8-1
- Grant Jack M. Berry W. Calhoun 15-1
- JP’s Gusto R. Dominguez J. Petalino 9-5
- Archarcharch J. Court W. Fires 10-1
- Bonaroo J. Johnson D. Lukas 30-1
- Yankee Passion G. Saez J. Jones 8-1
- Elite Alex C. Borel T. Ritchey 4-1
- Brickyard Fast B. McNeil J. Petalino 30-1
- Picko’s Pride I. Ocampo M. Robertson 30-1
Look for JP’s Gusto to use his speed up front, but I like Caleb’s Promise to score the win over the favorite. I’m also anxious to see if Elite Alex can rekindle the magic his father did in Arkansas six years earlier. We would like to wish all of the owners, trainers, jockeys, and horses a safe trip this afternoon and good luck as they move forward.
Written by Big Brink