HOT SPRINGS, AR – Phoenix Thoroughbred III’s heavily-favored Mourinho didn’t disappoint his supporters, romping from start to finish to take Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Off as the 3/5 favorite under Drayden Van Dyke, Mourinho broke clear out of the gate and immediately took command by a length over Tap Daddy while setting splits of :23.33 and :48.09. With 3/4 of the race completed, Mourinho found himself drawing clear by several lengths and the Bob Baffert trainee hit the wire first by 3 1/4 in a final time of 1:37.25 for the mile-long event.
“Bob said we’re the fastest horse in the race, so to get the lead and go from there,” Van Dyke said. “That worked out well for us. Threw his ears up and just coasted home.”
Combatant, though unable to gain ground on the winner, was much the best of the rest, finishing 8 lengths ahead of stablemate Tap Daddy in second. Bode’s Maker hit the gate at the start and found himself in trouble early but was able to finish 3/4 of a length past Arched Feather, who completed the order of finish. Navistar and Lone Rock were scratched.
The Smarty Jones is part of the Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby prep race season. Mourinho earned 10 points for the win, with Combatant receiving 4 for second, Tap Daddy 2 for third, and Bode’s Maker 1 for fourth.
Mourinho’s win was his first since breaking his maiden last September at Santa Anita, but he did finish second in his two subsequent starts, including the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes last out at Del Mar. The son of Super Saver took home $90,000 for the Smarty Jones win, increasing his career earnings to $154,360. With a two-turn race successfully under his belt, his trainer has several options available for his next start.
“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 at Oaklawn on February 19) may be a good spot. We’ll get him back to California and see what happens.”
Raised in Hot Springs shortly after being born in Kentucky, Van Dyke relished his first-ever trip to the Oaklawn winner’s circle.
“It’s extra special because it’s my home town,” he said. “Very happy.”
Mourinho returned $3.20 to win and $2.10 to place, while Combatant paid $2.40 to place. There was no show betting.