Phoenix Thoroughbred III's Mourinho is the 3-2 program favorite for Monday's $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, Oaklawn's first of four major preps for the Kentucky Derby and beyond.
The Smarty Jones will offer 17 points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. The 1-mile Smarty Jones not only attracted the California-based Mourinho, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, but also two entrants from Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who has topped the Oaklawn standings eight times since 2007. Future Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher had entered impressive maiden winner Navistar, but was forced to scratch when travel arrangements fell through.
The Smarty Jones, first run in 2008, is the only one of Oaklawn's four major Kentucky Derby preps to elude Asmussen and Baffert.
Probable post time for the Smarty Jones, the eighth of nine races on the special Martin Luther King Jr. Day program, is 4:38 p.m. (Central). Gates open Monday at 11 a.m., with first post at 1:05 p.m. Free Oaklawn baseball caps will be given away while supplies last.
Mourinho was scheduled to face highly regarded stablemate McKinzie in the $100,000 Sham Stakes Jan. 6 at Santa Anita, but scratched in favor of the Smarty Jones. McKinzie won the Sham by 3 ½ lengths to remain unbeaten in three lifetime starts.
Mourinho, who was flown to Arkansas Wednesday, will be racing around two turns and outside California for the first time in the Smarty Jones.
“I wanted to stretch him out and I didn't want to run him against my other horse, McKinzie,” Baffert said. “That race was pretty tough on paper. I thought I would bring him up there and see how he handles the shipping and really see if he can go two turns.”
A son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner and Arkansas Derby runner-up Super Saver, Mourinho has a 1-2-0 record from three lifetime starts. After winning his Sept. 30 career debut at Santa Anita, Mourinho finished second in the $75,000 Speakeasy Stakes Oct. 15 at Santa Anita and second in the $100,000 Bob Hope Stakes (G3) Nov. 11 at Del Mar.
In the 7-furlong Bob Hope, Mourinho was beaten 1 ½ lengths by Greyvitos, who returned to win the $400,000 Springboard Mile Dec. 17 at Remington Park.
Baffert removed blinkers for the Bob Hope, but Mourinho will wear them again Monday.
“He didn't break that well … he really wasn't focused enough,” Baffert said. “I don't know if it really made a difference. He needs the blinkers just to keep him a little bit more focused. He's a real fast horse.”
Mourinho is scheduled to break from post 4 under Drayden Van Dyke and carry 115 pounds. Van Dyke graduated from nearby Lake Hamilton High School in 2012 and won an Eclipse Award as the country's top apprentice jockey in 2014.
Completing the Smarty Jones field from the rail out: Combatant, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 115 pounds, 2-1 on the morning line; Lone Rock, Gary Stevens, 115, 12-1; Tap Daddy, Luis Contreras, 117, 8-1; Arched Feather, Jon Court, 115, 30-1; Navistar, John Velazquez, 115, 5-2; and Bode's Maker, Floyd Wethey Jr., 115, 30-1.
The Asmussen-trained Combatant finished second in the Springboard Mile in his last start. Tap Daddy, also trained by Asmussen, is seeking his first victory on dirt.
Lone Rock will also be scratched after running fourth in a first-level allowance/optional claimer Saturday at Oaklawn.
Baffert has 22 career stakes victories at Oaklawn, including 12 in Kentucky Derby preps – all since 2010.
Oaklawn's Triple Crown series continues with the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 19, $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 17 and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 14.
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