LITTLE ROCK — Race results and reputations convinced the Churchill Downs oddsmaker that three runners in the $500,000 Southwest at Oaklawn Park belong among the top 3-year-olds on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

LITTLE ROCK — Race results and reputations convinced the Churchill Downs oddsmaker that three runners in the $500,000 Southwest at Oaklawn Park belong among the top 3-year-olds on the road to the Kentucky Derby.


This week, Mike Battaglia identified the 23 horses in a Derby wager offered during the weekend and the three Southwest participants are among 13 ignored when a round of future wagering was available in January.


Considering the success of Oaklawn horses in Triple Crown races, it will be no surprise if others do well in Monday’s 1 1-16-mile race and are new to the future wager when it is available again in March.


Based on his neck victory in the Smarty Jones on Jan. 18 at Oaklawn and a nose decision in a $250,000 race in Oklahoma in mid-December, Discreetness is included in the Kentucky Derby wager. His odds are 50-1. Starting from the outside in a big field and possibly losing ground into the first turn works against him in the Southwest.


A disappointment in his only attempt vs. stakes competition, Whitmore is included, partly because trainer Ron Moquett has talked positively about the horse for months. Early in January, he kept the Oaklawn media informed about Whitmore’s progress. Ever since an allowance race victory, he has shared preparations for the Southwest. A regular in California, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Whitmore, who is 50-1 in the future wager.


Collected qualifies on both on-track results and the reputation of his trainer. He won a $100,000 race in California last month for Bob Baffert, who prepared American Pharoah for his historic sweep of the 2015 Triple Crown by winning the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. Collected is 30-1 in the future wager and Baffert has won the Southwest four times.


Often, there is value in the future wager pools; unearthing a May winner in February is something else. Last year, American Pharoah paid $7.80 for a $2 win ticket on Derby Day, but returned $27.60, $23, $18.20, and $13 in earlier pools.


The year before, Derby winner California Chrome returned $7 on race day, but $63.40, $67.60, and $20.80 in earlier pools in 2014. The individual favorite this weekend is unbeaten Mohaymen at 8-1 followed by 2-year-old champion Nyquist at 12-1.


In a way, the 3-year-olds in the Southwest are like college basketball teams in that the long-range goals are the Kentucky Derby and the NCAA Final Four and the winnowing out process for both involves competition that gets progressively better. Basketball teams must win their conference tournament or put together a resume good enough to impress the NCAA Selection Committee; the only way for thoroughbreds to get one of the 20 spots in the starting gate for the Derby is to earn points in designated races. The Southwest winner gets 10 points and the point values go up as the weeks go by, winding up with 50-point races such as the Arkansas Derby.


Think about Monday’s race in the context of basketball teams beginning conference play. All the competitors did something in recent months to inspire confidence among their owners/trainers and coaches/fans. For the thoroughbreds, maybe it was winning a big race at 2; for the teams, a sparkling non-conference record. At the very minimum, there were flashes of brilliance.


All told, the 13 expected to compete in the Southwest have won 23-of-50 starts, but only Discreetness, who is 4-of-6, has won more than twice. Separated by less than three lengths, the first four finishers in the Smarty Jones are in the field along with four others who made their last start at Oaklawn.


Even the Smarty Jones at the elongated sprint distance of one mile is comparable to a holiday tournament and the January victory by Discreetness against others at less than their best might be similar to Purdue winning the Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship in November, then finishing no better than mid-pack in the Big Ten.


Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: hleonk42@gmail.com