Updated on 02/26/2015 11:55AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Southwest Stakes

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Far Right and jockey Mike Smith score in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Sunday.

Grade 3, $300,000 Southwest Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Oaklawn, Feb. 22
(10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)
Winner: Far Right
Trainer: Ron Moquett
Jockey: Mike Smith
Owners: Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum
Beyer Speed Figure: 91

The Southwest was delayed six days owing to the continuing harsh winter weather that has plagued Oaklawn at this meet, but Oaklawn finally was able to run the race on a cold, rainy afternoon that left the track sloppy and sealed for the Southwest.

The Southwest was the final race considered an early-round prep for the Kentucky Derby, and thus offered a total of 17 points toward a Derby berth, including 10 to the winner. That’s the same amount as the previous month’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, and the result was the same, with FAR RIGHT winning again under Mike Smith.

Far Right started right in the middle of the field, post No. 6 of 11. He broke awkwardly to his left and found himself in front of just two rivals as he went into the first turn while three paths wide, where he had to avoid BOLD CONQUEST, who drifted out. He remained outside and well back of the leaders down the backstretch, then began to advance at the half-mile pole. Smith initially went inside with Far Right, but when traffic began to develop, he switched him out during the run around the far turn and followed THE TRUTH OR ELSE into the lane, about five paths off the rail. Smith then saw an opening to the inside and dived back there with Far Right, who rallied up the rail to prevail.

While the competition certainly figures to be much stronger for Far Right in the Arkansas Derby, he has proven quite handy at weaving through traffic and has steadily improved his Beyer Speed Figures this year. He is also 2 for 2 with Smith.

The Truth Or Else trailed while four paths wide into the first turn, his momentum impacted by the lugging-out MAJESTICO. He ducked inside that rival heading into the backstretch and then began an elongated rally, including an eye-catching move four paths wide on the final turn that carried him all the way to engage the leaders at the top of the stretch. He kept on fighting after that extended move and won a head bob for the place over MR. Z.

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This was a vastly improved performance for The Truth Or Else. It’s very likely that the off track moved him up since his pedigree is very mud-friendly, but this was his first time with Lasix and his 3-year-old debut, so maybe he’s a better horse, too. He was well beaten in the Remsen to end his 2-year-old campaign but had a legitimate excuse.

Mr. Z, who just got nosed out for second, broke from the outside stall and showed his usual good speed to lead narrowly early over HILLBILLY ROYALTY while racing outside that rival. He cleared Hillbilly Royalty heading into the backstretch and was loose on the lead until the three-furlong pole, where jockey Corey Nakatani understandably tried to give him a breather. He was challenged anew by Hillbilly Royalty midway on the turn, managed to fight off that rival, continued to battle, couldn’t hold off Far Right, and was barely touched out by The Truth Or Else. He ran well considering the race shape, which was fast early and slow late.

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Bold Conquest, who was fourth, bobbled slightly leaving the gate, drifted out around the first turn to cause a bit trouble for Far Right, remained well back early while inside, came under an aggressive ride with three furlongs to go, swung out about six lanes wide into the lane, then closed well while racing on his wrong lead all the way through the lane. This was his first start of the year.

Hillbilly Royalty, who finished fifth, broke like a shot and was inside and just behind Mr. Z heading around the first turn. He was wrestled back to let Mr. Z go heading into the backstretch, stalked, then re-engaged from the outside around the far turn. He battled with Mr. Z to the furlong pole, then could not keep up. This was an ambitious spot for only his third start, and he didn’t run all that badly, but his pedigree and debut win on a sloppy, sealed track suggest that the off track was helpful to his cause.

Majestico, who was sixth, hopped at the start to break last, lugged out around the first turn – which prevented The Truth Or Else from dropping in – ended up well off the rail while last heading down the backstretch, and only passed tired rivals while never being involved. This was his first start with blinkers.

Seventh-place finisher PRIVATE PROSPECT was bumped leaving the gate, raced in midpack while within hailing distance of the leaders, tried to rally while three paths wide on the far turn, but could not keep up and was badly outfooted through the stretch.

BAYERD, who finished eighth, did not repeat the quality of his second-place finish to Far Right in the Smarty Jones. He broke well, got a good spot inside in the second flight of horses while following the path of Mr. Z, remained on the rail, was late to change leads in the stretch, and had nothing to offer in the final quarter-mile.

PHENOMENAL PHOENIX, who finished ninth, raced between Bayerd and KANTUNE in the second flight of horses for much of the race and came up empty.

Kantune could not have had a better trip. He was three paths wide entering the first turn, outside Bayerd and Phenomenal Phoenix, while stalking Mr. Z and Hillbilly Royalty. He was in an ideal striking position heading into the far turn but backed up quickly during the final quarter-mile and beat just one horse.

BOLD ANIMAUX, who finished last of 11, was three paths wide into the first turn while following Kantune, stayed in that spot down the backstretch, then began to back up badly starting three furlongs out.