Robert Baker and William Mack's Hopeful Stakes winner Strong Mandate returns to action for the first time since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in the $300,000 Southwest Stakes Feb. 17 at Oaklawn Park, class of a 12-horse field drawn for the 1 1/16-mile event.
The big bay son of Tiznow finished third of 13 in the Nov. 2 Juvenile at Santa Anita Park, holding well after contesting the pace under Joel Rosario, who returns to ride from post 8. The Southwest, stepping stone on the path to the April 12 Arkansas Derby, has not been won by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas since 1992 with Big Sur, but last season he won two legs of the Oaklawn 3-year-old series -- the Smarty Jones and Rebel Stakes with eventual 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge.
The Southwest also marks the 2014 debut of Winchell Thoroughbreds' Tapiture, winner of the Nov. 30 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in his previous start. Trainer Steve Asmussen has thought highly of the homebred Tapit colt from day one, sending him into the Iroquois Stakes as a maiden off a runner-up debut Aug. 17 at Saratoga Race Course to none other than Strong Mandate, who went clear by 4 ½ lengths.
Third in the Iroquois, Tapiture ran back in a one-mile maiden special weight and finished third, then got his breakout victory in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club when he dazzled by 4 ¼. He breaks from the rail under Ricardo Santana Jr.
John Oxley and Mark Casse will keep swinging with Coastline, a gray Speightstown colt who was third in the Smarty Jones and won the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last October. Between those starts, he was favored in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes, but fizzled eighth after going to his knees at the break.
Bourbon Lane Stable and trainer Kellyn Gorder have an interesting contender in Bourbonize, a Tiz Wonderful gelding who is two-for-two and aired by four lengths in a one-mile allowance over a stout field at Oaklawn Jan. 10.
Trainer Bret Calhoun will saddle two contenders, Wesley Melcher's Remington Springboard Mile Stakes winner Louies Flower and Terra Di Sienna Stables' maiden winner Son of Dixie. The former, a colt by Flower Alley, has strung together a three-race win streak at Remington Park. The latter, a son of Dixie Union, last finished third behind Bourbonize.
Cody Autrey also has two in the Southwest -- Smarty Jones Stakes winner Tanzanite Cat and impressive Oaklawn maiden winner Paganol -- both owned by James Driver and H. Ywachetta. Autrey will attempt to follow the Smarty Jones path to success with the Graeme Hall runner who took that prep by 1 ¼ lengths over runner-up Walt.
That rival, by Run Away and Hide, comes back in this spot for Black Hawk Stable and trainer Chris Hartman. Prior to the Smarty Jones, Walt was fourth in the Springboard Mile after back-to-back maiden and allowance wins in his first two starts at Remington.
Calhoun and Autrey were forced to get creative as weather hampered training at Oaklawn leading up to the Southwest; they shipped their runners to Evangeline Training Center in Louisiana to get in final works. Also beating cancelled training, Asmussen worked Tapiture between races at the Arkansas oval and Hartman did the same with Walt.
Jerry Namy's allowance winner Kendall's Boy, a Sky Mesa colt from the barn of Tom Amoss, Daniel J. Dougherty's stakes-placed Ride On Curlin, and Alex and JoAnn Lieblong's maiden winner Fire Starter complete the field.