02/16/2013 4:21PM

Oaklawn: Baffert prominent in Southwest again with Super Ninety Nine

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Barbara D. Livingston
Super Ninety Nine, based in California with trainer Bob Baffert, is the likely favorite among 10 3-year-olds in Monday's Southwest Stakes.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Oaklawn Park’s road to the Arkansas Derby gets serious on Monday with the running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Southwest. Super Ninety Nine has invaded from Southern California for trainer Bob Baffert to lead the 10-horse field. Will Take Charge, Texas Bling and Always in a Tiz are back for a rematch after being separated by a neck in last month’s $150,000 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn. And then there’s Big Lute, who is making his two-turn debut after winning the first race of his career with a Beyer Speed Figure of 89.

The Southwest is the final 10-point race on the new Kentucky Derby system governing preference into the race if it is oversubscribed. Next weekend, the preps jump to 50 points in value to the winner, with the running of the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds.

Super Ninety Nine should start as the favorite in the Southwest, which this year has been lengthened from a mile to 1 1/16 miles. He is part of a deep cast of 3-year-olds Baffert is wielding in pursuit of his fourth Kentucky Derby. Super Ninety Nine won his two-turn debut in dominant fashion at Santa Anita in his most recent out Jan. 31, and will attempt to give Baffert, who swept Oaklawn’s graded series for 3-year-olds in 2012, his fourth win in the Southwest. Super Ninety Nine will break from post 6 and is to be ridden by Rafael Bejarano.

“He ran an incredible race,” Baffert said of the 1:35 mile at Santa Anita. “Bejarano always thought he needed more ground. If you looked at him, he’s built like a sprinter. He’s a big, heavy horse. We stretched him out, and he ran a really fast race. If he can duplicate that race . . . it got a 100 Beyer.”

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

The number is the best career Beyer among the Southwest starters. Earlier in his career, Super Ninety Nine, who has won 2 of 4 starts, was second in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue.

Will Take Charge will be defending his home turf after winning the Smarty Jones by a neck over Texas Bling. It was another head back in third to Always in a Tiz in the one-mile race, which ended at the sixteenth pole. Will Take Charge overcame a demanding trip, as he was forced six wide into the first turn, raced three wide around the final turn, and then was locked in a stretch battle with Texas Bling.

“That was a horrendous trip for that horse,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, said of Will Take Charge. “I felt like we escaped, with the trip and everything. To get the win anyhow was significant. We beat a quality field, in my opinion. I think some of those horses are going to show up and be okay. We didn’t beat ‘em far, but we still got up and won when we could have hung right there at the eighth pole.”

Jon Court has the mount on Will Take Charge.

Texas Bling won the $300,000 Springboard Mile over Will Take Charge in December, closing from eighth. In the Smarty Jones, he raced with the pace and put up a fight along the rail under Cliff Berry, who has the mount again Monday.

“It was definitely a horse race,” said trainer Danele Durham.

“[Texas Bling] showed versatility. We had to change his racing style to accommodate the finish line, where it was. I asked Cliff to move forward a little quicker than usual.

“I think [Texas Bling] will appreciate the added stretch.”

The Southwest’s ending at the second wire is also welcome news for Always in a Tiz, who was the favorite in the Smarty Jones.

“That actually benefits us,” said his trainer, Dominick Schettino. “The further the better for him.”

Always in a Tiz came rolling in the Smarty Jones after a less-than-ideal rail trip.

“Hopefully, he breaks better than last time and gets better position,” said Schettino. “And preferably, he’s not stuck down on the inside.”

Big Lute won a maiden special weight at Oaklawn in his career debut Feb. 1, covering six furlongs in a sharp 1:10.40. He has since worked a bullet half-mile in 47 seconds in-preparation for his two-turn test in the Southwest.

“I sure have no reason to feel that he can’t do it, [but] everything always remains to be proven,” said trainer Steve Hobby. “He’s so good-minded, I think he’ll do whatever the rider asks him. At least that’s been the case so far.”

Brown Almighty and Officer Alex are both stakes winners who exit the Smarty Jones with legitimate excuses. Brown Almighty finished fifth and afterward was found to have had a severe lung infection, according to trainer Tim Ice. Officer Alex was sixth after breaking last, getting hung wide, then losing a front shoe, according to his Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, Lynn Whiting.

“He made a move the other day and it looked like he was going to be right there,” Whiting said. “His move was short lived, and I think he just had too many complications along the way.”

Rosie Napravnik will be riding at Oaklawn for the first time Monday. She’s here with Fear the Kitten, who rallied for third to wire-to-wire winner Oxbow in last month’s Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds. Fear the Kitten should benefit from the surprise entrant of the front-running Heaven’s Runway, who pressed Goldencents in the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot.

“He will rely heavily on the pace scenario,” trainer Mike Maker said of Fear the Kitten.

The Southwest goes as the ninth on a 10-race card, with a post of 5:09 p.m. Central.