Pace, Track Favored My Boy Jack in Southwest Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

February 20th, 2018

Racing fans were treated to an eye-catching sight on Monday when My Boy Jack produced an explosive rally from off the pace to win the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park.

From a visual perspective, My Boy Jack looked terrific. Reserved at the back of the pack early on in the 8.5-furlong Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race, My Boy Jack began to advance around the far turn and enjoyed a perfect rail-skimming ride from jockey Kent Desormeaux to blow past the leaders in the homestretch and draw off to win by 4 ½ lengths.

But a closer examination of how the Southwest Stakes unfolded suggests that My Boy Jack was the beneficiary of a perfect setup. The track at Oaklawn was muddy and sealed on Monday, and when the track is wet at Oaklawn it can slow down sharply and start favoring deep closers. Furthermore, it appeared as though the rail was the best part of the track on Monday, particularly later on the card—remarkably, five of the ten races were won by horses breaking from post position one, and both of the day’s stakes races were won by deep closers rallying up the rail.

The pace of the Southwest also played to My Boy Jack’s strengths. A fast pace was expected give the number of front-runners in the field, and while the early fractions weren’t blazing at first glance—:23.46 and :47.70—they were actually quite fast given the condition of the track, and significantly quicker than the fractions of :24.02 and :48.52 posted by older males in the Razorback Handicap (gr. III) one race earlier.

These quick fractions had a tiring effect on horses racing close to the lead, including the pace-setting favorite Mourinho, who finished fourth, and Road to Damascus and Ezmosh, who retreated to finish ninth and tenth. As a result, the Southwest paced slowed down dramatically during the second half of the race, with the third quarter-mile being timed in :25.86 and the fourth in :26.11, fractions that gave a significant advantage to horses rallying from off the pace.

To put it another way, while I respect what My Boy Jack has accomplished thus far—which includes a third-place finish in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) behind McKinzie and a win in the Zuma Beach Stakes on turf—I’m hesitant to take his Southwest performance at face value given how well the race set up for him. Down the road, I might be more interested in the runner-up Combatant, who stayed a little closer to the pace than My Boy Jack while racing wide throughout, and Sporting Chance, who was never more than 1 ½ lengths off the early pace but still held on to finish third in his route debut and his first start since September.

What are your takeaways from the Southwest Stakes?