Mourinho Kicks Clear for Southwest Victory

Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ Mourinho earned his first stakes victory and stamped himself a legitimate Kentucky Derby (GI) contender on Monday with his impressive wire-to-wire victory by 3 ¼ lengths in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The Bob Baffert trainee was ridden to victory by regular jockey Drayden VanDyke and earned 10 points toward making the starting gate in Louisville on the First Saturday in May.

As the 3-5 post time favorite, Mourinho paid $3.20 and $2.10, while runner-up Combatant was worth $2.40. There was no show wagering, as the field was scratched down to five runners. The $1 exacta was good for $2.30 and the 50-cent trifecta with Tap Daddy checking in for third paid $2.

Bode’s Maker and Arched Feather rounded out the order of finish after Lone Rock and Navistar were withdrawn.

The 1/16-mile race was basically over at the break as Mourinho and VanDyke sped right to the lead and controlled the pace through splits of :23.33, :48.09 1:12.27 and 1:24.90 while saving ground most of the way. The winner received a brief tap from his rider down the lane, mostly to keep his mind on business, and he cruised easily to the wire to score the win. The final time for the fast main track test was 1:37.25.

“It’s extra special because it’s my home town,” VanDyke said. “Very happy.”

“He’s a horse that we get him to relax in the morning, so the blinkers, I think, helped keep him focused. Young horses like that need to stay focused. I think it benefited him. The main threat was Todd’s horse [trainer Todd Pletcher’s entrant Navistar], who scratched. Even before that, 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.”

Mourinho (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

Mourinho (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

Mourinho, who was named for the manager of the Premiere League football club Manchester United, is a bay son of Super Saver and the More Than Ready mare Sandi’s Ready and was purchased for $625,000 as an Ocala Breeders’ Sales 2-year-old in training 10 months ago. So far, he’s won two of his four career starts, with two seconds, for earnings of $154,360. He was previously second in the Bob Hope Stakes (GI) at Del Mar.

“Who would have thought 37 years ago that Trump would be President and [fellow Hall of Fame trainer] D. Wayne Lukas would be my assistant trainer,” Baffert said, joking about the fact that Lukas saddled the winner while Baffert remained in California.

“We always hoped [Mourinho would] pass the two-turn test. 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 [on Feb. 19] may be a good spot. We’ll get him back to California and see what happens.”