Baffert's Arabian Knight wins Southwest, is Ky. Derby favorite

Baffert's Arabian Knight wins Southwest, is Ky. Derby favorite
Photo: Ted McClenning / Eclipse Sports Wire

Arabian Knight came into Saturday’s Grade 3, $750,000 Southwest Stakes as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country and lived up to the hype on Saturday with a dominating 5 1/2-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Despite making only his second career start and first on a sloppy track, the 2-5 favorite in the field of eight shot to the lead like a veteran and proceeded through fractions of 22.98 and 46.82 through the first half mile.

The victory led Las Vegas oddsmakers to shorten Arabian Knight to their consensus futures favorite to win Kentucky Derby 2023. He went to 13-2 at Circa Sports and 6-1 at Caesars Sportsbook.

“He made it look easy. He broke well, and I took advantage of it," Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez said of the early stages of Arabian Knight's trip.

Baffert said he was feeling confident once he saw Arabian Knight establish a comfortable lead.

“When he got away and got in that high cruising (speed) down the backside I thought, ‘Well, if he’s as good as I think he is, there’s no excuse,’" he said. "If he got beat today, the distance was going to get him."

Velazquez was able to give the colt a breather down the backside, enabling his nearest rival, Frosted Departure, to get within a length  around the turn for home.

But any drama about the outcome soon vanished. Arabian Knight had plenty left to hold off Red Route One, who closed from last to get second. The winning time was 1:43 2/5 for 1 1/16 miles over sloppy track.

Renaissance Stakes winner Frosted Departure held on for third and was followed by his stablemate Sun Thunder, Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

The Southwest carried 40 total points toward eligibility in the Kentucky Derby, but Arabian Knight was ineligible for points because of trainer Bob Baffert’s two-year suspension by Churchill Downs, stemming from his Medina Spirit being disqualified from a 2021 Kentucky Derby victory for a medication violation.

Red Route One earned eight points, Frosted Departure received six points, Sun Thunder got four points and Jace’s Road got two points. Jace’s Road is currently ranked fifth on the list with 15 total points, Red Route One is ranked sixth with 13 points and Frosted Departure is ranked 16th with 6 points. Only the top 20 point-earners can start in the Kentucky Derby.

Arabian Knight, a $2.3 million 2-year-old in training purchase, is now 2-for-2 and has earned $544,275. The son of Uncle Mo returned $2.80, $2.40 and $2.20.

The victory was a record-breaking sixth for Baffert in the Southwest and a third for jockey John Velazquez.

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