Head-to-head: Handicapping the 2021 Southwest Stakes

Head-to-head: Handicapping the 2021 Southwest Stakes
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The Southwest Stakes (G3) pits last year’s undefeated 2-year-old champ Essential Quality against Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-place finisher Jackie’s Warrior. Add in Spielberg, who has faced some of the best colts in California, and we have the makings of an exciting 2021 Kentucky Derby prep.

Ashley Tamulonis of Coast to Coast and Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power discuss the field and offer their top picks.




The Breeder’s Cup Juvenile (G1) pitted one undefeated colt versus another, but it was Essential Quality that prevailed that day. There’s no doubt the talent is there, but that three-month layoff might end up being key here.

Last year’s 2-year-old champ puts his unbeaten record on the line in the Southwest. He has a challenging task ahead. Only two other colts in 15 years have won the Southwest off a layoff. Additionally, over the last five years, Brad Cox has a 6 percent win rate with 3-year-olds in graded stakes coming off a 100-day layoff. On the plus side, Essential Quality has tactical speed and is the class of the field.



It took four tries for Saffa’s Day to finally get his first official win, having been DQ’ed to 10th in his debut. The speed figures here are mediocre, and the only thing going for this colt is a win on the Oaklawn track. In this case, that’s not enough for me. Pass.

Saffa’s Day has been struggling on dirt. The colt showed zip, zero, nada in the Springboard Mile and Nyquist Stakes. He managed to beat maidens by a nose last out. Surprised Steve Asmussen hasn’t put the colt on turf, considering his dam and blacktype-earning half-siblings showed ability on the surface. Pass.



This is one of those Dallas Stewart decisions that hurts my head. Last Samurai’s only win came in a one-turn sprint. In his starts around two turns, he was never a factor. Pass.

Last Samurai beat a weak maiden field in his second start, which was the only race in which he didn’t break slowly. Dallas Stewart picked a tough spot for the colt’s 3-yer-old debut. Pass.


Like Essential Quality, Jackie’s Warrior has not raced since that duo last faced off at Keeneland. Both are dual grade one winners, but Jackie’s Warrior has more experience on the track. Asmussen put him through some sharpening works early in the month before putting in a couple of maintenance works over the last couple weeks. I’m not a fan of the layoff, but I am a huge fan of Asmussen at Oaklawn.

Jackie’s Warrior was the toast of New York. Then he became toast when trying two turns for the first time in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile. The son of Maclean’s Music was clearly tired in the stretch and was bested 3 1/4 lengths. Jackie’s Warrior could get an uncontested lead in the Southwest, and his one chance is to slow the pace. He should be respected.



Keith Desormeaux wheels Santa Cruiser back just two weeks after the son of Dialed In took a thumping in the Risen Star (G2). I had him in my superfecta in both preps at Fair Grounds; he completed the super in the LeComte but was a distant seventh in the Risen Star. I’m probably a glutton for punishment, but I’ll use this colt again to fill out the bottom slots of my superfecta.

Santa Cruiser flies to hopefully greener pastures from the Fair Grounds to Oaklawn Park. I liked him in both of his starts at the Fair Grounds, and both times he failed to deliver. We won’t get fooled again!



With all the trouble Woodhouse had in his 2021 debut, I’m very intrigued to see what he can do with a clean trip. If pedigree is any indication, this colt should be a runner, and a bargain buy at that as he was purchased for just $35,000. He faces a tall task, but he could be worth including underneath.

Woodhouse’s first start off the layoff was better than it looks on paper. He hopped at the start, was stuck in traffic, went wide around the turn, ducked out, ducked in, and once he found a straight path, he finished up well and passed the leaders on the gallop out. And he did it all on a sloppy track. He has a quality pedigree; his unraced dam is a half-sister to Grade-1 winning sprinter Dream Rush, who produced Grade 1 winner Dreaming of Julia. That one bore last year’s Demoiselle Stakes (G2) heroine Malathaat. Trainer Trout has a sneaky good 21 percent win and 49 percent ITM rate with horses making their second start off a layoff. Did I mention that Woodhouse has the highest late-pace speed figure in the field? Worth a long-shot look.


Spielberg is an interesting one. He doesn’t win often, but so far, he’s always been part of the superfecta. His effort in the Robert B. Lewis was nothing to write home about, and it may be that he needs a break since he’s raced quite often for a colt of his class.

Spielberg has seven lifetime starts and has been running steadily since last August. He developed a win/lose cycle back to November and is coming up on a “win.” Bob Baffert was a win machine in 2010 with Conveyence, and he also captured both divisions of the Southwest in 2012. His two runners since then, Collected (2016) and Mourinho (2018), both finished fourth as the beaten favorites. That being said, Spielberg has tangled with some of the best in California and warrants respect.

Final thoughts

Laurie: Either pressers or one-run closers have won the last five editions of the Southwest Stakes. The last time the favorite won was in 2013. The race is pretty clear-cut. Spielberg has the benefit of a recent race. Essential Quality will want to keep his perfect record intact, but the Southwest isn’t the ultimate goal. I see this as a “shake the rust off” type of race. He’ll win if he’s just that good. Jackie’s Warrior has to prove himself at two turns.

Spielberg, Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior are tied for the best dirt speed in the field. Of that trio, Spielberg has the most recent race, but that gives the other two the advantage of coming in fresh. In recent years, Bob Baffert always had the horse to beat, but Spielberg’s inconsistency is concerning. While Laurie is looking for an upset, I think I have to go the opposite direction … and hope that Essential Quality doesn’t pull a Storm the Court.







#7 SPIELBERG (9-2)

#7 SPIELBERG (9-2)



#6 WOODHOUSE (8-1)



Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

Top Stories

A wet track Saturday morning at Oaklawn threw Brad...
We will know the top 20 3-year-olds in line to mak...
The Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby  is the las...
Arcadia, Calif. With his six Kentucky Derby victor...
Today’s list of Saturday selections only covers fo...