Smarty Jones Stakes runner-up Texas Bling completed his major preparations for the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (gr. III) to be run Feb. 18 when he worked an easy five furlongs at Oaklawn Park Feb. 9. Fifth-place Smarty Jones contender Brown Almighty was also on the worktab after exiting the prep race with a lung infection, as were older fillies hoping to springboard a Feb. 16 Bayakoa Stakes victory into the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 12.
Texas Bling, a son of Too Much Bling, went five furlongs in 1:02 3/5 under jockey Cliff Berry. The Southwest, second in Oaklawn's series leading to the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) on April 13, is the feature for a special Monday card in honor of Presidents' Day. The 1 1/16-mile event will offer a total of 17 points based on Churchill Downs' criteria for making the field for the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Texas Bling earned four points on the road to the Derby with his runner-up finish a neck behind Will Take Charge in the one-mile Smarty Jones.
"This was an excellent work," said trainer Danele Durham, who conditions the colt for the Hall's Family Trust. "I think that this will be his final prep for the Southwest. We just asked him to go out there and stretch his legs. He'll be ready to go. Time-wise, it was kind of consistent with what we did last week. I told Cliff I didn't want to leave our race out there on the track."
Texas Bling earned the winter at Oaklawn by winning the $300,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park at odds of 128-to-1, then showed he belonged with his gutsy performance in the Jan. 21 Smarty Jones.
"I've been real calm with it," said Durham, who is spending her first meet in Hot Springs, Ark. "I've had other horses to run. The horse just seems to be taking to the track and coming back really well every day and there's really nothing to worry about."
Brown Almighty also tuned up for the Southwest for trainer Tim Ice on Feb. 9, going five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. It was the second-fastest of 71 moves at the distance on the day.
Brown Almighty has been one of the unluckiest horses in racing as the victim of several troubled trips in important turf stakes last year, and exited his first dirt stakes in the Smarty Jones with a lung infection. Now healthy, the son of Big Brown proved he's ready for a second try on dirt in the Southwest.
"I was very happy with (the move)," said Ice, who trains Brown Almighty for the partnership group of Tri-Star Racing, Joe Denson, and Brent Gasaway. "I thought he worked good. I thought the track was a lot tighter and he covered it well. He looked good getting over it. He did it pretty easily. Now, we just keep him healthy up until next week. We'll scope him again because you can't be too cautious. I wanted to give him a good 5/8s with just nine days until the race. We'll probably come back three to four days before and blow him out a quarter mile, but this was his major work."
Jockey Terry Thompson was aboard for the work and he will have the mount in the Southwest.
Two days before the 3-year-olds colts take the next step toward the Arkansas Derby in the Southwest, older fillies and mares with aspirations of making the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) on April 12 will start in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes on Feb. 16. Several key contenders for that race put in their final workouts Feb. 9.
Leading the charge was 2012 Azeri Stakes winner Tiz Miz Sue, second in the Bayakoa last year, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5. The Bayakoa will be her first start since the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland last October.
Pippin Stakes winner Don't Tell Sophia also breezed five furlongs, covering the distance in 1:00 3/5. Her time was the third-fastest of 71 at the distance.
She's All In, third in the Bayakoa and second in the Azeri behind Tiz Miz Sue last year, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 3/5. She most recently finished fourth to Joyful Victory in the Houston Ladies' Classic Stakes.