Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Bob Baffert wins a Kentucky Derby prep race at Oaklawn Park.
Actually don’t stop us because it happened, and we want to tell you about it.
The Racing Hall of Fame trainer who used Oaklawn to prep eventual Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, started down the Kentucky Derby path via Hot Springs a little earlier this year with Mourinho in the Smarty Jones Stakes on Monday, January 15.
The win was no surprise to bettors, as the colt by 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver was 3-to-5 to get the job done, and get the job done he did by 3 1/4 emphatic lengths. The Steve Asmussen-trained Combatant finished second well clear of stablemate Tap Daddy.
“He ran like we hoped he would,” Baffert said. “Looks like two turns is no problem; Super Saver is one of my favorite stallions, so hopefully [Mourinho] carries on.”
The Oaklawn connections don’t stop with the trainer and sire, who had finished second in the Arkansas Derby on the way to his big win at Churchill. Jockey Drayden Van Dyke went to Lake Hamilton High School in nearby Pearcy, Arkansas. The biggest difference is Baffert and Super Saver have won the Derby, and Van Dyke is still looking for his first classic win.
“Bob told me he’s the fastest horse in the race, and Wayne said he’s training great,” Van Dyke said. “Once I got the lead, Mourinho relaxed, and it was smooth sailing.”
Mourinho’s only anxious moments came early in the race when he fought for position outside Tap Daddy, but once clear of that foe into the first turn he relaxed through four furlongs in :48 and six furlongs in 1:12 before completing the mile in 1:37.20.
Both Baffert and Asmussen seemed keen for a rematch in the Southwest Stakes on February 19 at Oaklawn with Asmussen feeling the added distance will benefit Combatant while Baffert thinking Mourinho will have no problem going on with it.
“Mourinho’s a better miler than we are, but we’ll be fine as the distances get longer,” Asmussen said.
Jockey Ricardo Santana agreed, saying after the race that Combatant was relaxed and had another gear, but the winner was gone.
Mourinho’s win gave him his first 10 Kentucky Derby points, good for 12th among the 42 horses with at least 1 point. Combatant has now finished second in two consecutive 17-point races, and his 8 points are good for 13th.
(Photo by Coady Photography)