Baffert-Trained Mourinho Cruises To Easy Smarty Jones Victory

Tap Daddy was sent after the heavy favorite Mourinho out of the starting gate, but the Bob Baffert trainee beat his four rivals to the first turn by a length. For owner Phoenix Thoroughbreds, the 3-year-old son of Super Saver led throughout Monday’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, cruising under the wire an easy winner under Drayden Van Dyke. Mourinho completed one mile over the fast main track in 1:37.25, and earned 10 points on the Road to Kentucky Derby. Runner-up Combatant earned four points, Tap Daddy earned two, and Bode’s Maker earned one.

“The main threat was Todd’s horse (trainer Todd Pletcher) horse (Navistar) who scratched,” Van Dyke said. “Even before that, (trainer) Bob (Baffert) said we’re the fastest horse in the race, so to get the lead and go from there. That worked out well for us. Threw his ears up and just coasted home.”

The five-horse field lined up at the start without much fuss for the Smarty Jones, and Mourinho was a half-length ahead of the rest just after the break. Tap Daddy, just to his inside, was sent hard by jockey Luis Contreras, but was unable to catch the leader before the first turn. Stablemate Combatant held his rail position, stalking the pace in third as Tap Daddy settled in about 1 1/2 lengths behind Mourinho. Arched Feather was out wide, and Bode’s Maker traveled behind the field after breaking awkwardly.

After a first quarter in :23.33, Van Dyke was able to ease off the pace a bit to mark the half in :48.09. As Contreras and Ricardo Santana, aboard Combatant, began to urge their mounts on, Van Dyke gave Mourinho an inch of rein. The colt jumped into the bridle and quickly put two lengths on the field.

Mourinho turned for home three lengths to the good with the short stretch all the remained between him and his first stakes victory. Combatant made a good effort to make up ground and was a clear second, but no threat to the winner as Mourinho crossed under the wire about 3 1/2 lengths in front. Tap Daddy was able to hold third over Bode’s Maker.

“Who would have thought 37 years ago that Trump would be President and D. Wayne Lukas would be my assistant trainer,” Baffert joked, making fun at the fact that his fellow Hall of Fame trainer saddled the winner for him.

Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Mourinho is out of the stakes-placed More Than Ready mare Sandi’s Ready. He commanded the bargain price of $30,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling sale, but brought a final bid of $625,000 at the OBS March 2-year-old in training sale. Mourinho debuted at the end of September, breaking his maiden by 4 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita. His next two starts resulted in seconds in the listed Speakeasy Stakes and the G3 Bob Hope Stakes, the latter to future winner of the Remington Springboard Mile Greyvitos.

Overall, Mourinho has a record of two wins and two seconds from four starts, with earnings of over $150,000.

“We always hoped he’d pass the two turn test,” Baffert said. “He broke well and was able to make the early lead. He looked like he had plenty left. We’re very encouraged. We’re excited. It’s that time of year when you start to get excited. I don’t know where we’ll run him back. The Southwest (Stakes Feb. 19) may be a good spot. We’ll get him back to California and see what happens.”

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