By Jennifer Hoyt —-
HOT SPRINGS, AR (Sunday, Jan. 13, 2018) – 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.
Oaklawn Barn Notes: Desormeaux Plans to Send Sonneteer Back for Razorback Handicap
Hours after Sonneteer’s breakthrough victory in the $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses Friday at Oaklawn, trainer Keith Desormeaux was already plotting his next move. That move is a return trip to Arkansas.
The Southern California-based Sonneteer won for the second time in 18 lifetime starts, overhauling Futile on the outside in deep stretch to win the 1 1/16-mile Fifth Season, his 4-year-old debut, by three-quarters of a length under C.J. McMahon.
Sonneteer, as a maiden, ran twice last year at Oaklawn, finishing second in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and fourth in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G2), before running 16th in the Kentucky Derby.
“There’s no doubt that would have happened a lot sooner if his home base was Oaklawn,” Desormeaux said, referring to a second victory. “No doubt about that. I don’t think I’ve ever had a horse that has such an affinity for a certain track. Really is amazing. That’s why we play this game. It’s got plenty of variables that are fun.”
Desormeaux said Sonneteer will be pointed for the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 19, Oaklawn’s second of three major preps for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 14.
Sonneteer lost his first 12 career starts, broke his maiden by a nose on the turf July 23 at Del Mar, then lost his next four races, including a third in a Dec. 3 allowance/optional claimer at Los Alamitos to conclude his busy 2017 campaign.
Desormeaux said an equipment change helped fuel Sonneteer’s Fifth Season victory.
“If you’ve look at his form, I’ve tried everything with the horse,” Desormeaux said. “Polytrack at Golden Gate, turf at Del Mar and then I finally added blinkers in his last start and put him back on dirt and that seemed to invigorate him.”
Desormeaux said Sonneteer is scheduled to ship Monday to Fair Grounds and fly back to Southern California – his base is Santa Anita – Tuesday to begin preparations for the Razorback.
“It’s worked out too well not to bring him back,” Desormeaux said. “It’s a little bit of a hassle and expense, but he’s obviously earning his way and doing well training here.”
Sonneteer ($61.60) provided Desormeaux with his first victory in 18 Oaklawn starts, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. It was the second Fifth Season victory for McMahon. Sonneteer, a career winner of $426,050, races for his breeder, Calumet Farm, and is by sprint champion Midnight Lute.
Sonneteer was flown Wednesday to Arkansas.
Our Majesty Returns
Dazzling 2017 Oaklawn debut winner Our Majesty is scheduled to make her 4-year-old debut in Thursday’s eighth race, a second-level allowance/optional claimer for older fillies and mares at 6 furlongs.
Our Majesty will be making her first start since finishing second, beaten 3 ¾ lengths, in the $150,000 Miss Preakness Stakes (G3) May 19 at Pimlico.
“After the Maryland race, she hit a growth spurt and looked like she needed to mature,” trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said. “She had never done anything wrong. I think that race took something out of her.”
Our Majesty was a 5 ½-length debut winner last February and crossed the finish line first in her next start, the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes last March at Oaklawn, but was disqualified and placed fourth for interference shortly after the start of the 6-furlong race.
In her only other 2017 start, Our Majesty was a sharp first-level allowance winner last April at Keeneland.
Moquett said the goal for Our Majesty is to win a stakes race – “Again.”
“I think the growth spurt finally caught her, so, obviously, we didn’t want to take a chance on hurting her,” Moquett said. “We’re glad to have her back like she was.”
David Cohen is named to ride Our Majesty, a daughter of Majesticperfection who races for It’s All About The Girls Stable LLC.
Training was delayed Sunday because of freezing temperatures. The abbreviated session was from 10 a.m.-noon (Central). … Riding newcomer David Cohen and Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s second-leading trainer last year, teamed to win Saturday’s third and fourth races with Sutton Impact ($14.60) and favored Cash Bonus ($7.40), respectively. … Unbeaten Amy’s Challenge is among 28 nominees to Saturday’s $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 6 furlongs. Amy’s Challenge, who beat males in both lifetime starts last year at Canterbury Park, is scheduled make her 2018 debut in the Dixie Belle, trainer Mac Robertson said