Stakes-placed Combatant is one of four entrants for Steve Asmussen in the Southwest Stakes

Stakes-placed Combatant is one of four entrants for Steve Asmussen in the Southwest Stakes

Coady Photography

Asmussen Has Strength in Numbers in Southwest

Hall of Fame trainer has four entered and three expected to run in Oaklawn prep.

There is no such thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to having promising 3-year-olds.

Lest anyone was tempted to weep for trainer Steve Asmussen in the wake of the retirement of 2017 Horse of Year Gun Runner , a quick rundown of the sophomore prospects in his care may stem that. He has graded stakes winner Copper Bullet inching closer to his seasonal bow, he unveiled an impressive maiden winner in Tenfold at Oaklawn Park Feb. 9, and had another talent in Fascilitator jump up to earn his second straight win just two days later.

Count the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Feb. 19 as a microcosm of how deep the well of potential runners in Asmussen's shedrow is these days. Of the 11 entered in the 1 1/16-mile prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, four come from the Hall of Famer's barn. Even with one slated to hang back in Louisiana, Asmussen still has a viable chance to overwhelm his challengers with both quality and quantity. 

While Smarty Jones Stakes victor Mourinho and grade 1 winner Sporting Chance are the most proven runners in the Southwest field, it wouldn't be a shock if a member of the Asmussen armada claimed the 10 qualifying points that goes to the winner toward a start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). With Principe Guilherme expected to remain at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for the Feb. 17 Risen Star Stakes (G2), stablemates Combatant, Zing Zang, and Retirement Fund are all aiming to showcase some upside in Monday's test at the Hot Springs, Ark., track.

Since he broke his maiden going one mile at Churchill Downs Oct. 29, Combatant has flirted with a couple mini breakout runs for owners Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing. The son of Scat Daddy finished second to Greyvitos in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes in December and played the runner-up again in the eight-furlong Smarty Jones after Mourinho was able to have things all his way on the front end.

ANGST: Mourinho Breaks Through in Smarty Jones Stakes

Added ground could help move Combatant forward as the waters get deeper. When asked what needs to happen for the bay colt to handle stiffer tests, however, Winchell Thoroughbreds manager David Fiske said it comes down to mastering one basic quality.

"He needs to get faster," Fiske said. "He's been pretty consistent, and he always gives you the impression in the morning like there is something more there—like he's really not got it all together or he's really not giving it all to you. So we're hoping there is some upside there and that eventually he will put it all together. But like I said, he needs to get faster."

Having won each of his first two starts in gate-to-wire fashion, Retirement Fund could be among those pushing the early fractions in the Southwest. If some honest speed does develop, late-running Zing Zang would be set up to try and improve on the rally he made to  finish fourth last time out in the Lecomte Stakes (G3).

Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas did his longtime friend Bob Baffert a favor when he saddled Mourinho in the Smarty Jones, while his West Coast-based comrade stayed in California. Lukas is hoping to be a little less benevolent Monday, when Sporting Chance makes his first start since he won the Hopeful Stakes (G1) Sept. 4.

The son of Tiznow  had surgery shortly after that run to remove a knee chip and has turned in six workouts since the start of the year, though Lukas cautioned there may be some fitness left on the table as the colt tries two turns for the first time.

"We're probably not going to be as tight as we need to be or should be with those horses all having an out," said Lukas, who also has Kentucky Club going in the Southwest. "But I think we've got a very talented horse, so maybe he'll overcome me."

Entries: Southwest S. (G3)

Oaklawn Park, Monday, February 19, 2018, Race 9

  • Grade III
  • 1 1/16m
  • Dirt
  • $500,000
  • 3 yo
  • 5:10 PM (local)
11My Boy Jack (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateKent J. Desormeaux119J. Keith Desormeaux12/1
22Sporting Chance (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateLuis Saez117D. Wayne Lukas9/2
33Principe Guilherme (KY)Florent Geroux115Steven M. Asmussen4/1
44Mourinho (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateDrayden Van Dyke122Bob Baffert2/1
55Road to Damascus (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJohn R. Velazquez115Todd A. Pletcher15/1
66Seven Trumpets (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateRobby Albarado117Dale L. Romans10/1
77Retirement Fund (KY)Shaun Bridgmohan115Steven M. Asmussen15/1
88Zing Zang (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateCorey J. Lanerie115Steven M. Asmussen15/1
99Kentucky Club (KY)Ramon A. Vazquez115D. Wayne Lukas30/1
1010Combatant (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateRicardo Santana, Jr.115Steven M. Asmussen6/1
1111Ezmosh (OK)Keeneland Sales GraduateGary L. Stevens115Brad H. Cox12/1