Secret Circle is the even money favorite for the second division of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Monday, February 20th.
Due to an overwhelming number of entries, Oaklawn Park will feature two divisions of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes today (Race 8 and 9). Both races will carry Grade 3 status and the same $250,000 purse. Post times for is scheduled for 4:41pm and 5:15pm Central time.
Let's take a look at each division:
5-Longview Drive (5/2), 3rd in the Sham on January 7th, garners morning line favoritism for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. He'll get a jock switch from Joel Rosario to Martin Garcia and should be right in the thick of things from the second the gate opens. Running up near the lead appears to be critical for Longview Road's chances; he broke slowly in the Delta Downs Jackpot never made much of a run.
I'm a big fan of 2-Unbridled's Note (10/1) in this spot. Sure, he's just a maiden winner, and a maiden winner from late October. But he's a horse that should appreciate a little more distance (and the mile really isn't asking that much more) and his tactical speed should play extremely well in a race that will finish at the 1/16th pole. The step up in class is always a concern, but if we've learned anything about Derby contenders the last few years it's that the fields tend to be wide open with very little distinction paid to the class ladder. At 10/1 on the morning line (and with my personal favorite, Julien Leparoux, in the saddle), I've got a lot of reasons to like Unbridled's Note in this spot.
4-Majestic Stride (8/1) scored a nice maiden win last time out at Oaklawn on January 22nd. He's stretching out for the first time and has plenty of speed in a race with plenty of front-runners. If the rest of the field lets him get comfortable on the lead he may be able to steal this race.
6-Junebugred (7/2) comes into the Southwest after winning the ungraded Smarty Jones on January 16th. Personally, I thought the Smarty Jones wasn't very impressive, at least from a visual perspective. The race fell apart a bit in the final furlongs, and that was after a pace scenario that wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire. I'm just sensing that Junebugred is going to take a bit of a step back in this race.
11-Castaway (5/1) is an interesting horse in this race as he finally found himself on the winning side in his sixth try against maiden company back on January 12th. Drawing furthest outside will require good gate speed in order to avoid getting caught wide going into the first turn, but he's displayed an ability to do just that in his last two races after stretching out to two turns.
It seems a bit crazy to go with a couple of recent maiden winners in a graded stakes race, but I like the chances of both Unbridled's Note and Majestic Stride the first division of the Southwest Stakes, especially given their generous morning line odds.
9-Secret Circle (Even) has produced quality races in each of the first four races of his career, including a near miss in his first try at two turns in the Sham. I think there is still a bit of a question as to how far this colt really wants to go given the tremendous amount of speed he possesses, but this race should be well within his comfort zone.
7-Cyber Secret (4/1) put up a huge effort in his last races, scoring by an easy five and a quarter lengths against a field of $65k OC/N1X horses at Oaklawn on Feb. 4th. The distance won't be a problem and he's got the ability to take this field all the way around the track. Could be very tough.
10-Big Wednesday (15/1) closed hard to win a minor stakes race at Presque Isle Downs back in early October but he displayed very little in his only attempt on conventional dirt.
4-Apprehender (10/1) looked like a million bucks when he broke his maiden in his debut by over seven lengths. Conditions will be a lot different in this race as that last effort came at 5 ½ furlongs over a muddy Oaklawn track. I'm always a little leery of a horse coming back after posting a big effort on a wet track, especially when they are being asked to stretch out.
Secret Circle is clearly the "horse to beat" in the second division and is easily the most consistent of any in the field. I like the looks of Cyber Secret due to his prior success over the track and his ability to run a winning race at two turns, but I'm concerned at what will happen if he doesn't get an easy lead like he did in his last race. If he has the ability to stalk the pace, then I think he's got a big shot to win. If he can't, he'll probably finish up the track. The morning line odds of 4/1 are nice but I'd prefer to see those drift up a bit, perhaps to 9/2 or 5/1, in order to feel like I'm getting good value.