HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — For the second time in three days, a West Coast-based horse shipped east to the South and left with 10 Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifying points.
On Monday at Oaklawn Park it was Mourinho winning the $150,000 Smarty Jones for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The win came two days after Instilled Regard won the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds for Hall of Fame conditioner Jerry Hollendorfer.
Mourinho briefly tussled with Tap Daddy for the early lead, but had no problem clearing on the first turn and was relaxed through a half mile in :48 and six furlongs in 1:12 before winning the one-mile race by 3 1/4 lengths over second-choice Combatant in 1:37.20 as the 3-5 favorite.
“He ran like we hoped he would,” Baffert said from California after deputizing fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas to saddle Kerri Radcliffe’s Super Saver colt. “Looks like two turns is no problem; The sire is one of my favorite stallions, so hopefully [Mourinho] carries on.”
Super Saver finished second in the 2010 Arkansas Derby (G2) at Oaklawn before winning the Kentucky Derby. He stands at WinStar Farm for an advertised fee of $35,000, and other top progeny by him include champion Runhappy.
Mourinho’s only real challenge in the same came early when Tap Daddy challenged him on the inside, but it was cruise control after the opening quarter-mile.
“Bob told me he’s the fastest horse in the race, and Wayne said he’s training great,” said jockey Drayden Van Dyke, who went to Lake Hamilton High School in nearby Pearcy, Arkansas. “Once I got the lead, Mourinho relaxed, and it was smooth sailing.”
Baffert said that Mourinho would return to his California base and prepare for his next start with a return engagement at Oaklawn in the Southwest (G3) the most likely target. It’s a rematch another Hall of Fame trainer would welcome, as Steve Asmussen acknowledged after the race that Mourinho is the better miler but Combatant will get better going longer.
“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.
Asmussen trains both Combatant and Tap Daddy, which could explain the tactics on Tap Daddy, who mustered third under Luis Contreas. Bode’s Maker and Arched Feather rounded out the field.
Mourinho’s win gave him his first 10 Kentucky Derby points, good for 12th among the 42 horses with at least one point. Combatant has now finished second in two consecutive 17-point races, and his eight points are good for 13th.