This upcoming holiday Monday, the Kentucky Derby Championship Series will run the last of the 10-4-2-1 Derby points prep races under the new Churchill Downs points system format for a 2013 Derby starting berth: the $300,000 G3 Southwest Stakes. It is a 1 1/16 mile race for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls hosted by Oaklawn Park. The top-three finishers from the January Smarty Jones Stakes, also contested at Oaklawn, Will Take Charge, Texas Bling and Always in a Tiz, respectively, have a return engagement in the Southwest in the hopes of earning more valuable points toward Kentucky Derby eligibility. The Southwest Stakes is often used as a prep race for the $600,000 G2 Rebel Stakes, which will be held this year on March 16th.
Since the start of 2013, there have been well documented winners and some large wining margins in the initial stage of the "Kentucky Derby Prep Season" Goldencents (Sham), Oxbow (Lecomte), Itsmyluckyday (Holy Bull), Flashback (Robert Lewis), Revolutionary (Withers). The accolades have also extended out (rightfully so) to impressive maiden and allowance winner, Verrazano, who has yet to earn a single point. Let's not forget juvenile champ, Shanghai Bobby, and Cash Call Futurity winner, Violence, who sits atop many Derby "Top Ten" lists. That is a highly accomplished and impressive group of equines and a tough nut to crack. However, given all that those winners have achieved up to this point, one 3-year old that has caught my attention throughout these early preps thus far is the aforementioned, Always In A Tiz, a fast-closing third in the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Always In A Tiz was shipped to Arkansas from New York by trainer Dominick Schettino following a second in the Traskwood Stakes at Aqueduct, and Paco Lopez shipped from south Florida to ride. After breaking in a tangle, getting dirt kicked in his face most of the race, being blocked down on the rail until the head of the stretch, he finally shook loose. Through the short Oaklawn stretch he came flying down the outside, and missed by a half-length of catching the winner. It was evident to my eyes that Lopez, riding for the first time at Oaklawn, misjudged the stretch, moved too late and the finish line (located at the 16th pole) came up too fast. Nonetheless, I absolutely loved the toughness this colt displayed in that event, something that will go a long way in crowded and competitive races such as the "Run For The Roses."
Based off his performance in the Smarty Jones Stakes and his distance breeding, he's the type of horse I would have loved to taken a chance on in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby future wager, but Always In A Tiz was lumped into the 9-5 mutuel field that closed even lower at 8-5. Hopefully in Pool 2, he is a separate entity, but he has to start winning races just to qualify under the newly installed points system.
The Tiznow colt owns just a 3-race resume, including his maiden win back in September at Saratoga against eventual Withers winner, Revolutionary, so there's plenty of room for improvement. The Southwest on President's Day will be his third race off the layoff at a longer distance, and coupled with better race riding judgement from jockey Lopez this time around, I'm expecting big things.