Southwest odds and analysis: This race is too tough to bet

Southwest odds and analysis: This race is too tough to bet
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

After two postponements, the Grade 3, $750,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park finally runs on Saturday and features two big names in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior, the beaten favorite in that race.

Essential Quality’s value is debatable as he makes his 3-year-old season debut. Yet, as seen below, there are not a lot of other directions bettors can safely go in.

The Southwest Stakes is carded as Race 10 with a post time of 5:58 p.m. ET.

1. Essential Quality, 6/5 (Tapit – Brad Cox/Luis Saez – 3: 3-0-0 - $1,355,144): Essential Quality took advantage of a hot pace to capture the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 3/4 of a length over Hot Rod Charlie, who did back up the effort with a close third-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) last month. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, Essential Quality won the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) by 3 1/4 lengths. In that situation, he showed speed by contesting the leader Upstriker and then began to draw clear in the stretch. As a caution, neither of those efforts gave him standout speed figures. On TimeformUS, he shows only a 112 for the Breeders’ Cup victory and a significantly lesser figure of 101 for his Breeders’ Futurity win. If he moves forward as a developing 3-year-old, though, he can build off the 112 TimeformUS figure. Expect Saez to keep him reasonably close to the pace as well, especially from the rail position. The public second choice and expected pacesetter, Jackie’s Warrior, brings possible stamina issues, while Spielberg displays inconsistent form from California. Assuming the pocket is not a problem, Essential Quality figures to wait for Jackie’s Warrior to fade and eventually grind out a win. The pick.

2. Saffa’s Day, 15-1 (Carpe Diem – Steven Asmussen/Ricardo Santana Jr. – 4: 1-0-0 - $62,034): The son of Carpe Diem offers stakes experience, but neither of the efforts appear encouraging on paper. Following a disqualified maiden win, Saffa’s Day was sixth by 17 1/2 lengths in the Nyquist Stakes on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at 3-1 odds. The following month, he ran a non-threatening fourth in the Remington Springboard Mile, losing to Señor Buscador by 9 1/2 lengths. Señor Buscador was fifth this month in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) in a disappointing effort after making a brief run on the far turn. Saffa’s Day broke his maiden (again) locally on Jan. 22. However, it is disappointing that he ran more than one second slower than Caddo River in the Smarty Jones Stakes on the same card at the same distance. Despite the strong combination of Asmussen and Santana Jr., he is overmatched. Toss.

3. Last Samurai, 20-1 (Malibu Moon – Dallas Stewart/Jon Court – 3: 1-0-0 - $45,144): In three starts last year, Last Samurai broke his maiden on Sept. 24 and did not hit the board in his other two efforts at the maiden and allowance optional claiming levels. All three races came at Churchill Downs, with the maiden win following a cutback in distance from nine furlongs to seven furlongs. Does he need to sprint? The more probable answer is that Last Samurai met a weak field in that Sept. 24 maiden win. Yet trainer Dallas Stewart is a difficult one to toss out of the superfecta in bigger races. Last Samurai also is liable to move forward as a more mature 3-year-old colt with three starts under his belt from last year. For those searching for a bomb in the third or fourth slot, this is the right horse. Use underneath.

4. Jackie’s Warrior, 9/5 (Maclean’s Music – Steven Asmussen/Joel Rosario – 5: 4-0-0 - $502,564): Well, he is speedy. Jackie’s Warrior made use of his speed to capture the Saratoga Special (G2) and Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Saratoga before stretching to a one-turn mile in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont and winning a fourth time. He won the Champagne by 5 1/2 lengths with a 117 TimeformUS Speed Figure, five points higher than Essential Quality’s Breeders’ Cup number. After stalking the pace though in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and briefly taking the lead, Jackie’s Warrior could not offer a final punch in the stretch. He wound up fourth and beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Essential Quality, with Hot Rod Charlie and Keepmeinmind passing him in the stretch to pick up second and third. Even with the fast pace as an excuse, the distance question remains an important one. His dam Unicorn Girl was a sprinter that won at distances from five to six furlongs, and matching her with Maclean’s Music only helps balance that out a little bit. Given Spielberg is likely to press from the outside, expect this pacesetter to fade late. Use underneath.

5. Santa Cruiser, 12-1 (Dialed In – Keith Desormeaux/Richard Eramia – 5: 1-1-1 - $85,792): Following his maiden win at Churchill Downs last November, Santa Cruiser ran fourth in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) and seventh in the Risen Star Stakes (G2). He arguably offers excuses for both efforts, though. In the Lecomte, Santa Cruiser was shut off at the start by the two horses surrounding him. As for the Risen Star effort, where he lost by 16 1/2 lengths, Santa Cruiser went wide on the first turn through an arguably swift pace. From that point, he was stuck in seventh place the entire way. Santa Cruiser might need more distance to win, as he seems too one-paced to factor in a graded stakes race at only 1 1/16 miles. For bettors who want another long shot in the bottom slots, give him a longer look. Use underneath.

6. Woodhouse, 15-1 (Speightstown – C. R. Trout/David Cabrera – 2: 1-0-1 - $25,698): Even though Woodhouse took a step forward speed figure-wise in the local Feb. 11 allowance race, he had dead aim on the leaders in the stretch and hung. From a visual standpoint, it felt disappointing to not see him finish off the winner, Twilight Blue, and runner-up Riptide Rock. Twilight Blue previously ran fourth in a local six-furlong allowance, while Riptide Rock broke his maiden on Woodbine turf. The leap from that allowance to this Derby prep race is too high. Toss.

7. Spielberg, 6-1 (Union Rags – Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia – 7: 2-2-1 - $263,200): Without a doubt, this is a difficult horse to analyze. In some races, Spielberg looks like a legitimate threat in the 3-year-old division. Other times, he turns in puzzling clunkers. The most recent clunker came in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, when he made up ground approaching the turn before fading in the stretch run far behind the top trio. Spielberg lost by 11 1/4 lengths to Medina Spirit, although jockey Flavien Prat did not bother urging him in mid-stretch. Two starts ago, Spielberg delivered a game performance in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) to win over The Great One by a nose with a 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Last month, The Great One went on to break his maiden by 14 lengths at Santa Anita with a 113 on TimeformUS. Where was the Los Alamitos version of Spielberg when he ran in the Robert B. Lewis? Even if Spielberg was not going to win, he seems capable of finishing closer than 11 lengths to those types of horses. Now, Baffert brings Spielberg to Oaklawn, which means he is probably training well. He is capable of popping back with a big performance, but he is not trustworthy alone. Win contender.

Conclusion: This race is too difficult to bet.

If a bet is made, though, sticking to multi-race wagers is the right idea. The favorite Essential Quality figures to offer extremely low odds, while Spielberg is unreliable, but it seems likely that at least one of them will fire a race big enough to win.

Essential Quality and Spielberg are the first priorities. If the other legs of the Pick 4 are not too costly, then Jackie’s Warrior might deserve a spot in the wager as well. But again, Jackie’s Warrior does not give the impression he wants to run this far.

Those who want a win or place wager should give Spielberg a chance rather than eat low odds on Essential Quality. With that said, this is a race for fans, not bettors.

2021 Southwest Stakes (G3)

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