If there is a significant 3-year-old race on the Oaklawn Park schedule, it is usually a safe bet that trainer Bob Baffert has put one of his own on the plane from his California base.
Proving some things never change, the first of four sophomore prep races at the Hot Springs, Ark., track this season indeed features a well-regarded prospect from the barn of the Hall of Fame trainer. Graded stakes-placed Mourinho will aim to add to his conditioner's Oaklawn dominance Jan. 15, when he heads a field of seven entered for the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes.
The Smarty Jones is a qualifying race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and awards the top four finishers with points on a 10-4-2-1 scale toward a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
Baffert has been a most ruthless Oaklawn invader in recent years, particularly where the 3-year-old races are concerned. Since 2010, he has won a total of 19 stakes there—including six editions of the Rebel Stakes (G2)—most notably using his home away from home to prep future Triple Crown winner American Pharoah for his classic sweep.
Since attention must be paid anytime Baffert ships one of his horses, Mourinho will likely vie for favoritism as he seeks his first stakes triumph. The son of Super Saver broke his maiden first time out going six furlongs at Santa Anita Park Sept. 30, finishing ahead of eventual grade 1-placed Instilled Regard, and he finished second in two stakes tries since.
One of those runner-up outings came in the Nov. 11 Bob Hope Stakes (G3) where Mourinho was bested by Greyvitos, who further flattered himself and company when he came back to take the Dec. 17 Remington Springboard Mile Stakes.
Owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred III and a $625,000 purchase by agent Kerri Radcliffe from De Meric Sales' consignment to the Ocala Breeders' Sales 2017 March sale of 2-year-olds in training, Mourinho has earnings of $64,360 from three starts. He is scheduled to race in blinkers again Monday.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen will have two for the one-mile Smarty Jones—Combatant and Tap Daddy. The former comes into the race off a second-place finish in the Springboard Mile, while Tap Daddy will make his first start since closing out 2017 with an allowance win on the turf at Churchill Downs. Last year Tap Daddy earned a grade 3 placing when he finished a close third—moved up to second after a disqualification—in an off-the-turf edition of the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland,
Todd Pletcher will be represented in the Smarty Jones by Navistar, who won a maiden race going the one-turn mile by 1 1/2-lengths at Gulfstream Park Dec. 16. Oaklawn Park, Monday, January 15, 2018, Race 8
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Combatant (KY) Ricardo Santana, Jr. 115 Steven M. Asmussen 2/1 2 2Lone Rock (KY) Gary L. Stevens 115 William B. Van Meter 12/1 3 3Tap Daddy (KY) Luis Contreras 117 Steven M. Asmussen 8/1 4 4Mourinho (KY) Drayden Van Dyke 115 Bob Baffert 3/2 5 5Arched Feather (KY) Jon Kenton Court 115 Edward Harrison Frederick 30/1 6 6Navistar (KY) John R. Velazquez 115 Todd A. Pletcher 5/2 7 7Bode's Maker (KY) Floyd Wethey, Jr. 115 Allen Milligan 30/1
Oaklawn Park, Monday, January 15, 2018, Race 8