The track at Oaklawn Park was busy Feb. 14, with some of the top contenders for the Feb. 21, $250,000 Southwest Stakes (gr. III) turning in their final workouts.
Leading the busy morning were Gem Stable’s grade I winner J P's Gusto and Zachney and Partners’ Elite Alex.
J P’s Gusto, who arrived at Oaklawn last week, worked six furlongs in 1:15 3/5 under jockey Bryan McNeil in his first drill since joining the barn of Joe Petalino. The Successful Appeal colt was shifted by his owners from California to Oaklawn with the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) his targets. His most impressive race last year was his 4 1/2-length romp in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) at seven furlongs. Petalino is charged with preparing for the one-mile Southwest where he will team with 2010 Eclipse Award champion jockey Ramon Dominguez.
“He came to me with four works already in him,” said Petalino. “He’s hasn’t missed any time so he’s pretty much ready. He’s doing pretty good here and he seems to like the track.”
Baccari Racing Stable’s Brickyard Fast, runner-up in the Springboard Mile in December, is scheduled to work toward the Southwest on Feb. 15 for Petalino. The son of Sharp Humor missed the Smarty Jones Stakes due to a minor foot bruise.
Elite Alex breezed seven furlongs from the starting gate in 1:27 under jockey Calvin Borel. The colt is a son of Afleet Alex , the 2005 Arkansas Derby winner who also won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (both gr. I) en route to champion 3-year-old honors. Elite Alex, who like his sire is also trained by Tim Ritchey, will be making his third career start and first attempt at stakes competition in the Southwest.
The colt worked in company with another Tim Ritchey worker as well as a third horse who joined them in the barrier. Clockers caught the fractions in 36 3/6, 49 4/5 and 1:01 4/5 over the fast track with Elite Alex and Borel hitting the finish wire well clear of his workmates and continuing on his own around the first turn.
“He’s going very good and everything was there when I wanted it today,” said Borel, who along with his wife Lisa, was left immediately after th e workout to to to the Little Rock Airport to begin his journey to Dubai for an international all-star jockey event. “He’s super good right now and he feels like the real deal. Now we just have to hope we can get into the Southwest.”
Two Southwest probables trained by Jinks Fires--Sugar Bowl Stakes winner Archarcharch and Patricia Blass’s Bluegrass Bull—also breezed on St. Valentine’s Day.
Archarcharch clocked six furlongs in 1:15 flat under jockey Jon Court as he seeks to bounce back from a fourth-place finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 17. Fires has been eager to push the son of Arch into action, but recent inclement weather and circumstances made that difficult.
“I was really hoping I could get him into an allowance race because he’s such a big horse, it’s about the only way I can really get him what he needs,” said Fires. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a race to go, and then Mother Nature let us know that (this workout) would have to be good enough.”
Oaklawn was forced to cancel six straight live racing cards in the past two weeks due to a pair of winter storms and the resulting track conditions.
Jockey Gabriel Saez was aboard Bluegrass Bull for a six furlong move in 1:17 2/5 as that son of Bluegrass Cat pushes to improve on his third-place finish in the Smarty Jones last month.
“It was a little deep out there about three lanes out from the rail,” said Saez. “He worked good and should get something out of it. I just let him get a nice spot before he picked it up in the lane.”
McNeill Stables’ Smarty Jones Stakes winner Caleb's Posse and Pin Oak Stable’s Alternation, Southwest contenders trained by Donnie Von Hemel, were also among those on the busy work tab.
Caleb’s Posse, a 3-year-old son of Posse coming off a 2 3/4-length triumph in the first stop on the Arkansas Derby series, breezed an easy five furlongs in 1:03 2/5 under regular jockey Eddie Razo Jr.
Alternation, a winner of an allowance race over fellow Southwest hopeful Elite Alex on Jan. 15, worked five furlongs under jockey Luis Quinonez in 1:01 4/5 in company with the lightly-raced Pin Oak 4-year-old Take Turns.
“They had to just gallop for a couple days, so it was good to get back to work this morning,” said Von Hemel. “I’m happy with what both of them were able to do. Caleb looked like he wanted to do some more. He really looks like he’s ready.”
Ever since emerging from opening weekend with these two contenders, Von Hemel has left open the possibility of splitting them up for their next starts. He remained non-committal Feb. 14, but indicated he would have no problem sending both against each other in the one-mile President’s Day feature.
“We will see how things go over the next few days,” he said. “It’s looking like it could be a big field and there are a lot of races out there at this time of year, but we are ready to run one or both depending on how it goes here out of these works.”