02/10/2012 4:38PM

Oaklawn: Atigun to shoot for Southwest

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Atigun, who started his 3-year-old season with a sharp first-level allowance win opening weekend at Oaklawn, is being pointed for the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes here Feb. 20, said his trainer, Ken McPeek. His connections had been debating whether to run back in the Southwest, at a mile, or await the Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel on March 17, a race to be run at the same mile and a sixteenth distance over which he won at Oaklawn.

“The horse is doing super,” McPeek said. “We’re not real thrilled with the flat-mile distance of the race. We had discussions about waiting for the Rebel. But the horse is doing well and at this point we’re going in the Southwest. The distance will come later in the series.”

The Southwest and Rebel are Oaklawn’s graded preps for the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby at a mile and an eighth April 14.

McPeek said Terry Thompson has the mount on Atigun in the Southwest. He rode the horse in the allowance Jan. 15, when he closed from seventh to get up for a neck win. Cyber Secret, who finished ninth in the race, returned to win another allowance at Oaklawn on Feb. 4, with a Beyer Figure of 96.

Atigun, who won his maiden at Churchill Downs, also ran fifth in that track’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November.

“He’s getting more and more professional,” said McPeek, who trains Atigun for the Shortleaf Stable of John Ed Anthony.

The gate for the Southwest is expected to be a crowded one. There were 13 potential starters as of Friday, including Secret Circle, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. Others include Junebugred, Reckless Jerry, Jake Mo, Optimizer, Pee H Dee, Cyber Secret, Apprehender, Majestic Stride, Big Wednesday and Najjaar.