01/17/2012 3:35PM

Oaklawn: Allowance winner Atigun, maiden grad Najjaar may take shot at Southwest

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Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park
Three of the top four finishers from Monday's Smarty Jones, including winner Junebugred (far right) are expected back for the one-mile Southwest.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – The first-, second-, and fourth-place finishers from Monday’s Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park were not the only 3-year-olds to put themselves in the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes picture over opening weekend in Hot Springs. The winners of a couple of overnight races last Saturday and Sunday are also mulling starts in the first of the meet’s two graded preps for the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Junebugred won the $100,000 Smarty Jones by a neck to improve his career record to 2 for 3. He earned a career-high Beyer Figure of 89 for his score in the one-mile race, and is now targeting the Southwest, which will be run at a mile on Feb. 20.

“I think that’s the most logical thing for us,” trainer Steve Hobby said on Tuesday. “It’s a good break between now and then and it’s another mile race.”

In the Smarty Jones, Junebugred settled in behind a trio of pacesetters then burst through an opening heading into the stretch in a move that most impressed Hobby.

“He didn’t have much room and he didn’t hesitate,” he said.

Hobby said jockey Joe Bravo, who shipped in for the mount aboard Junebugred, indicated he would like to return to Oaklawn to ride the horse in the Southwest.

Reckless Jerry was second in the Smarty Jones, rolling along the outside after breaking from post 12. He came into the race off a runner-up finish in the $315,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park, and went off at 17-1 on Monday.

“His effort was great,” said Kenny Smith, who trains Reckless Jerry. “If I was going to make a target for his next race, it would be the Southwest. He seems to like the racetrack. We’re here, and it makes sense to stay here.”

Jake Mo pushed the pace in the Smarty Jones and finished fourth, 1 3/4 lengths behind Junebugred.

“He ran all the way and that’s all you can ask of him,” said Allen Milligan, who trains Jake Mo. “He will go onto the Southwest.”

Atigun might also advance to the Southwest, according to his trainer, Ken McPeek. The horse won a first-level allowance on Sunday, when he closed from well back for a neck win. The 1 1/16-mile race was the horse’s first score at two turns, and the start was his first since finishing fifth in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill in November. For his effort Sunday, Atigun earned a Beyer of 77.

“We were really pleased with the race,” said McPeek, who trains Atigun for Shortleaf Stable. “He was very professional, seemed to take himself to another level. Right now, it looks like we’re pointing toward the Southwest or the Rebel, one or the other.”

The Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel will be run at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn on March 17.

Najjaar is under consideration for the Southwest after he closed fast to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Saturday. The score came in his fifth career start.

“I think that’s going to be a possibility, the Southwest” said trainer Dan Peitz.

Najjaar, who races for Shadwell Farm, won by a neck to earn a Beyer of 72.

“He was coming off a two-month layoff, so I think we still got some room for improvement,” said Peitz.

Peitz said he will also look at adding blinkers to Najjaar.

“Not so much to put him in the race sooner, but more just to try to get him to run a little straighter,” he said.