Gray Attempt has led throughout his last three races, and the speedy Jinks Fires trainee figures to be on the lead again in Monday's Southwest Stakes after drawing the rail in a field of 11.
“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 Smarty Jones marked Gray Attempt’s first start around two turns. The gray son of 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 the jock. My job’s done when they leave the paddock.”
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) ran in the one-mile Smarty Jones, won by Gray Attempt.
Bankit, 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, Ricardo Santana, Jr., will ride the Jersey Town colt back in the Southwest.
Program favorite Cutting Humor (pictured) will try to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fifth victory in the last 10 Kentucky Derby points races at Oaklawn. Pletcher won the Southwest with One Liner and the Rebel with Malagacy in 2017, and he took the Rebel and Arkansas Derby last year with Magnum Moon.
Cutting Humor finished second to Bourbon War in his most recent start, a first-level allowance opn 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 John Velazquez, who has ridden the son of First Samurai in two of four 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 to Gunmetal Gray in the Sham Stakes on Jan. 5 at Santa Anita. Desormeaux said he hopes the Southwest is a bridge to the Santa Anita Derby.
“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. Olympic Runner makes his stakes debut for trainer Mark Casse after a front-running 5 3/4-length off-the-turf maiden victory Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park, and he gets rider David Cohen, who through Saturday was leading the Oaklawn jockey colony in wins.
The projected 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.
Probable post time for the Southwest, the ninth of 10 races on a special Presidents Day card, is 5:09 p.m. (Central). Doors open Monday at 11 a.m., with first post 1:05 p.m.
Edited release with additional content by Dick Downey