Arabian Knight lives up to hype in Southwest

Zedan Racing Stables LLC’s Arabian Knight came into Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country and lived up to the hype with a dominating 5 ½-length victory before an on-track crowd of 27,000.

Despite making just his second career start and first on a sloppy track, Arabian Knight shot to the lead like a veteran and proceeded through fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 4/5 for the first half mile. Jockey John Velazquez gave him a breather down the backside and his nearest rival, Frosted Departure, was able to get within a length of him around the turn for home, but the ending was never really in doubt.

“He made it look easy. He broke well and I took advantage of it,” Velazquez explained. “Obviously, he’s pretty quick and I let him push along into the first turn. He was kind of looking around a lot. Finally got to the backstretch and I moved out from the rail a little bit, just to get him to relax.”

Arabian Knight had plenty left to hold off Red Route One, who closed from last to get second. The winning time was 1:43 2/5 for 1 1/16 miles over sloppy track.

“At the quarter pole, I went after him, and he opened up and he saw the tire track (from starting gate). I said, ‘Come on buddy, don’t do something stupid,’” the rider recalled. “I hit him once, right before we got to the tire track. He kind of hesitated and then he sees the light and I hit him one more time and all of a sudden, he takes off on me. Going to the wire I was like, ‘OK, that’s what I wanted to see.’”

Renaissance Stakes winner Frosted Departure held on for third and was followed by his stablemate Sun Thunder, Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

The Southwest carried 40 total points towards eligibility in the Kentucky Derby, but Arabian Knight is ineligible for points because of trainer Bob Baffert’s two-year suspension by Churchill Downs, stemming from his Medina Spirit being disqualified from a 2021 Kentucky Derby victory for a medication violation.

Red Route One earned eight points, Frosted Departure received six points, Sun Thunder got four points and Jace’s Road got two points. Jace’s Road is currently ranked fifth on the list with 15 total points, Red Route One is ranked sixth with 13 points and Frosted Departure is ranked 16th with 6 points. Only the top 20 point-earners can start in the Kentucky Derby.

Arabian Knight, a $2.3 million 2-year-old in training purchase, is now a perfect two for two and has earned $544,275. The son of Uncle Mo returned $2.80, $2.40 and $2.20.

The victory was a record-breaking sixth for Baffert in the Southwest and a third for jockey John Velazquez.

“We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this,” Baffert said. “What he did today, he ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath. This was a big effort, so he needs time in between (races). We’ll play it by ear (regarding his next start).”