The Road to the Kentucky Derby takes us to Arkansas, Monday, where Hall of Fame Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will send Strong Mandate to the starting gate as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the 49th running of the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park. Post time for the Southwest Stakes is 6:09 PM Eastern Standard Time.
Last December, I wrote that Strong Mandate was a young colt to watch on the Derby Trail, ranking him sixth in my 2014 Kentucky Derby Outlook, and I’m eager to see how he will fare in his debut as a three year old. He hasn’t raced since last November, but he’s been training well at Oaklawn and recently he fired two bullet work outs in preparation for this race.
Strong Mandate comes into this race with a 2-0-1 record in 5 starts as a two year old. Early on, he showed promise winning two, back-to-back sprint races at Saratoga by a combined 14¼ lengths, including a 9¾-length romp in the Grade One Hopeful Stakes. He followed up those victories with a seventh-place finish in the Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (G1) and closed his racing season with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1). Here’s the chart call and video replay:
STRONG MANDATE was used four wide to join the pace fray past the seven eighths marker, disputed the issue three deep past the five eighths marker, dropped in going clear around the far turn, met the bid of HAVANA past the five sixteenths marker, gave chase past furlong grounds and kept on willingly to the wire.
It remains to be seen if Strong Mandate has the potential to be a Classic Champion Thoroughbred. However, he has the breeding to be competitive on the Derby Trail.
Tiznow, the sire of Strong Mandate, was not successful in sprint racing but he was an outstanding router who won 10-furlong Super Derby (G1) by six lengths and the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) by five lengths.
The most notable 10-furlong wins of Tiznow came in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) where he defeated the European champion Giant’s Causeway by a neck. In 2001, Tiznow defended his title of champion in Breeders’ Cup Classic when he defeated the European invader and formidable winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Sakhee, by a nose.
Deputy Minister, the damsire of Strong Mandate, is a descendant of the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd and he’s a proven broodmare sire of the Belmont Stakes (G1) winners Sarava (2002), Jazil (2006) and Rags to Riches (2007). In addition, Deputy Minister also is the sire of the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Awesome Again and Touch Gold. And he’s the grandsire of Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Oxbow.
One never knows how these young horses will fare on the Derby Trail. But, Strong Mandate has the breeding and Lukas knows how to get young horses ready for big races. I look for Strong Mandate to be competitive in the Southwest.
A long shot I like in this race is Tanzanite Cat (8-1) who comes into the Southwest with a 2-0-1 record in three starts, including a 1¼-length win in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn on January 20. Trained by Coty Autry, Tanzanite Cate is stepping up in class and he, too, has the breeding to be competitive in the Southwest.
Graeme Hall, the sire of Tanzanite Cate, was a multiple graded stakes winner who compiled a 7-7-1 record in 22 starts with $1,147,442 in career earnings. As a two year old, Graeme Hall’s most notable stakes finish was second in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (G2) at Keeneland. As a three year old, Graeme Hall finished second in the Rushaway Stakes and he won the 9-furlong Arkansas Derby (G2). He started in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but was eased after seven furlongs.
Another move forward could make Tanzanite Cat competitive in the Southwest.
In his previous races, Tapiture (3-1) has never finished worse than third and he comes into the Southwest with a 1-1-2 record in four starts, including a third-place finish in the Iroquois Stakes (G3) and a 4¼-length win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on November 30.
Tapiture has been working out good and recent bullet work at the Fair Grounds on January 27 could have him ready to run a good race.
Walt (15-1), Coastline (8-1) and Paganol (8-1), a coupled entry with Tanzanite Cate, could also be a factor in the exotics.
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Southwest Stakes (G3) will receive 10 points, the second-place finisher will receive four points, the third-place finisher will receive two points and the four-place finisher will receive one point. Here’s a look at the current top 20 Derby qualifiers:
2014 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Havana, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
2. Cairo Prince, 14, Kiaran McGlaughlin, $470,000
3. Honor Code, 14, Shug McGaughey, $340,000
4. Tamarando, 12, Jerry Hollendorfer, $490,000
5. Tapiture, 12, Steve Asmussen, $120,738
6. Midnight Hawk, 12, Bob Baffert, $84,000
7. Bond Holder, 11, Doug O’Neill, $333,000
8. Rise Up, 10, Tom Amoss, $782,633
9. We Miss Artie, 10, Todd Pletcher, $242,000
10. Candy Boy, 10, John Sadler, $260,000
11. Samraat, 10, Rick Violette, Jr., $150,000
12. Noble Moon, 10, Leah Gyarmati, $145,000
13. Ami’s Holiday, 10, Josie Carrroll, $136,145
14. Vicar’s in Trouble, 10, Mike Maker, $120,000
15. Cleburne, 10, Dale Romans, $102,044
16. Tanzanite Cat, 10, Code Autrey, $90,000
17. Casigaupo, 5, Mario Morales, $271,050
18. Classic Giacnroll, 5, Lisa Guerrero, $62,500
19. Conquest Titan, 4, Mark Casse, $163,445
20. Smarty’s Echo, 4, Anne Smith, $82,000