The January 15 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park played out as many expected, with 3-5 favorite Mourinho accelerating clear from the gate and easily leading wire-to-wire. Combatant didn’t receive the right set-up but deserves credit for a respectable runner-up effort; circumstances could be much different next time for the top two finishers.
Mourinho netted his first stakes victory with the 3 ¼-length decision and Drayden Van Dyke was up for Bob Baffert.
A four-time Kentucky Derby winner, Baffert loves the Oaklawn route to Churchill Downs, recording a pair of tallies in the Arkansas Derby (G1), six wins in the Rebel (G2) and four victories in the Southwest (G3), but this marked his first triumph in the one-mile Smarty Jones. Mourinho won’t be the only Kentucky Derby contender the Hall of Fame trainer sends to Hot Springs, Arkansas this year.
A son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Mourinho netted 10 points making his first attempt in a Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier. He stretched out to two turns following a pair of runner-up finishes in the Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar and Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita and registered a career-best 99 BRIS Speed rating.
Baffert was encouraged to see his charge handle two turns but Mourinho couldn’t have had things better as the lone speed among only five rivals. The bay colt was putting blinkers back on after losing ground in the stretch of his last two starts and I’m not enthused about his chances at longer distances. But we’ll get a better read upon Mourinho’s Kentucky Derby prospects in future starts.
Combatant was not going to catch the loose-on-the-lead winner but finished with gusto to be eight lengths clear of third in the short stretch. A good-looking maiden victor going a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs in late October and a non-threatening second to Greyvitos in the December 17 Springboard Mile at Remington Park, the Scat Daddy colt continued to move forward while making his second start in a qualifier.
He garnered career-best BRIS Speed (95) and Late Pace (98) numbers in the Smarty Jones and I like the progress Combatant is making for Steve Asmussen.