Mourinho Another Bob Baffert Hopeful on the Road to the Kentucky Derby
Oaklawn Park’s Road to the Kentucky Derby begins in earnest Monday with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes headlining the holiday card of racing. With the later Arkansas preps proving to be some of the most productive races in recent years, the Smarty Jones has attracted a number of highly regarded out-of-town shippers, headlined by Bob Baffert-trained Mourinho, the race favorite at 3-2.
Mourinho, a $625,000 OBS March purchase, won his debut Sept. 30 at Santa Anita impressively by more than 4 lengths with 3rd place finisher and favorite Instilled Regard 6-lengths back. Instill Regard won Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds. Mourinho has finished 2nd in a pair of stakes races in the Speakeasy Stakes won by Greyvitos and then the Bob Hope (G3). Baffert now adds blinkers to his colt and Mourinho looks ready to get back in the winner’s circle trying two turns for the first time after being scratched from the Sham Stakes.
“I wanted to stretch him out and I didn’t want to run him against my other horse, McKinzie (Street Sense) [in the GIII Sham Stakes. Jan. 6],” Baffert said. ” I thought I would bring him [to Oaklawn] and see how he handles the shipping and really see if he can go two turns.”
Mourinho’s top challengers in the Smarty Jones are Todd Pletcher-trained Navistar (5-2), who is 1-1 in two starts and Steve Asmuseen-trained Combatant (2-1) and Tap Daddy (8-1), a pair of Scat Daddy colts. Combatant was the favorite in defeat to Greyvitos in the Springboard Mile, but his tactical, tracking racing style could have him finish best with an improved performance; something we all try to identify from these rapidly improving 3-year-olds.
The top-4 finishers in the Smarty Jones receive 10-4-2-1 qualifying points towards the Kentucky Derby. But if you’re looking for any of these runners to be serious Derby challengers, know that since the Smarty Jones Stakes started in 2008, the race has yet to produce a classic winner. However, you’ll get a chance to watch for a few of these colts and other potential Derby contenders at Oaklawn as the series of Kentucky Derby preps continues with the Southwest Stakes (G3) on February 19, the Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 17, and the Arkansas Derby (G1) on the final day of the meet, April 14.
The Smarty Jones Stakes is Race 8 on Monday, Jan. 15 with post time at 5:38 p.m. ET.