02/15/2010 12:00AM

Southwest lures three Californians

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Benoit & Associates
Conveyance puts his undefeated record on the line in the Southwest.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - They call Arkansas the "Natural State" and it is for Oaklawn's real, live dirt that Conveyance, Cardiff Giant, and Domonation have invaded from Southern California for Monday's Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest.

The horses finished a respective first, second, and third in last month's Grade 3 San Rafael run over Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface. They are part of a 10-horse cast for the Southwest, which is the first major prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby. Others set to start in the one-mile Southwest include Grade 1 Hopeful winner Dublin; $100,000 Smarty Jones winner Dryfly; and Florida shipper Mission Impazible. One-mile races at Oaklawn begin and end at the sixteenth pole, making for a short stretch run.

Conveyance, undefeated in three starts, is one of three Southwest starters listed on Daily Racing Form's initial Derby Watch, and he is the most highly regarded at 20-1. After being considered for the

Grade 3 Sham later this month at Santa Anita, he has instead come to Oaklawn on something of a fact-finding mission.

"I wanted to ship him," trainer Bob Baffert said late last week from California. "It was either run there [at Oaklawn], or run here at a mile and an eighth on synthetic. I wanted to see how he handles the dirt, and I thought the mile is a good distance for him right now.

"I'm learning something about the horse."

Conveyance has been a front-running force in each of his starts, all in Southern California. He won his maiden and a first-level allowance last fall, then came back and took the one-mile San Rafael by a length and three-quarters Jan. 16. He will break from post 2, under regular rider Garrett Gomez.

"He wants to be on lead," Baffert said of Conveyance. "He likes to be right there."

Cardiff Giant chased Conveyance in the San Rafael, and now follows him to Oaklawn.

"We want to try him on dirt," said Tony Matos, the racing manager for owner M Racing. "And there was no pace the other day. He had to move too soon. Nobody went with Conveyance. With a truer pace, I think we've got a big chance."

Christian Santiago Reyes, the Eclipse Award-winning apprentice of 2009, has the mount for trainer Jorge Periban.

Trainer John Sadler has sent late-running Domonation to Hot Springs to race on dirt and in search of some honest fractions. Corey Nakatani will ride.

"There was no pace in front of him last time," Sadler said of the San Rafael. "It was a bad setup, and he still ran on at the end very well."

Mission Impazible should contribute to the Southwest's pace. The third-place finisher in last year's Grade 3 Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill in April, he made his first start of the year last month at Gulfstream and was second by a head in a first-level allowance sprint. He breaks from post 4, with trainer Todd Pletcher giving the mount to John Velazquez.

Dryfly, at 40-1 on Derby Watch, is another quick horse, having wired the field in the one-mile Smarty Jones. The race was his first since a November allowance win at Churchill, and trainer Lynn Whiting is hopeful he will move forward Monday.

"He's got the race under him now," he said. "And he got a lot from it. It was a deep, tiring racetrack."

Calvin Borel has the mount on Dryfly, who has had some morning lessons in rating since the Smarty Jones.

Dublin, at 30-1 on Derby Watch, has had minor throat surgery since his last start, when he was seventh as the favorite in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill on Nov. 1. Earlier in the year he rallied to win the Hopeful at Saratoga. The Southwest will be his two-turn debut, and he will break from post 10.

"He's got good tactical speed," said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Dublin. "When he won the Hopeful, he was never very far off of it."

Terry Thompson has the mount.

An honest pace in the Southwest would benefit Pleasant Storm, who put in a sustained run when closing for second in the Smarty Jones. Bryan McNeil will ride for trainer Joe Petalino.