Oaklawn's terrific 3-year-old stakes program, Winx goes for 15 straight
By Dick Powell
Oaklawn Park has a great program for 3YOs to get ready for Triple Crown races. It began with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes on January 21 going a two-turn mile. Then, they raise the ante with the $500,000 Southwest Stakes at 1 1/16 miles last Monday.
Coming up on March 18, the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) will be held at 1 1/16 miles. And the main event, the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) going 1 1/8 miles, takes place three weeks before the Kentucky Derby (G1) on April 15.
Last year’s Arkansas Derby winner CREATOR (Tapit) came back to win the Belmont Stakes (G1). In 2015, AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) reaped the benefits of the Arkansas route by becoming Thoroughbred racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
The Oaklawn prep races attract full fields and you have your choice of a strong locally-based contingent or the many invading shippers. Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher use Oaklawn as one of their major stepping stones to get ready for bigger things since the safe main track gets a horse legged up.
Last Monday, the Southwest attracted a full field of 12 sophomore colts. UNCONTESTED (Tiz Wonderful) was sent off as the 11-to-10 favorite based on a dominating five-length win in the Smarty Jones on a sloppy track for Wayne Catalano. He trained well since and was going to be able to stay out of traffic with his early speed.
Bunched underneath him in the betting were ONE LINER (Into Mischief) at 34-to-10, LOOKIN AT LEE (Lookin at Lucky) at 51-to-10, SILVER DUST (Tapit) at 74-to-10 and PETROV (Flatter) at 85-to-10. The rest were all double-digit odds.
Uncontested broke out at the start and proved a bit rank going around the first turn as he had to cover the first quarter in 22.93 seconds and a half-mile in 46.55 seconds. With pressure being applied by Petrov, Uncontested covered six furlongs in 1:10.96 but when Petrov jumped on him turning for home, the pacesetting favorite had no answer.
At one point, it looked like Jose Ortiz’s decisive move on Petrov would be the winning one but Johnny Velazquez had a front-row seat to what was going on up front, saved crucial ground then swung out after turning for home to pull away by 3 ½ lengths, finishing in the good time of 1:41.85.
Trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by a partnership of WinStar Farms and China Horse Club, One Liner could be anything since this was his two-turn debut and he won from post 11 while answering every question. His cruising speed was excellent and he responded to Velazquez’s cue in push-button manner.
Pletcher will have many options from here but don’t be surprised to see him back in Hot Springs, Arkansas. After all, this is the path Pletcher followed for his only Kentucky Derby winner, SUPER SAVER (Maria’s Mon).
If you live on the West Coast or have insomnia, pay attention to the Chipping Norton Stakes (G1) at Randwyck Racecourse in Sydney, Australia. The mighty WINX (Street cry) makes her second start of the year and has not been defeated in the past 14 starts.
Going a right-handed mile at Randwick, she drew post 4 with Hugh Bowman as she inches toward $10 million in career earnings. Winner of back-to-back Cox Plates (G1), Australia’s premier weight-for-age event, she faces nine rivals, including five other millionaires.
Winx is 18-for-24 lifetime. Rated as one of the world’s best horses, she is rightfully listed as the odds-on favorite in Saturday’s race. The Chipping Norton would be her 10th Group 1 stakes win and there is talk about going to Royal Ascot in June if she stays sound.
I would love to see her in the Dubai Turf (G1) going a one-turn nine furlongs at Meydan on the undercard of the Dubai World Cup (G1) card.