Oaklawn News

The Southern California-based Baffert will send out 2-1 program favorite Mourinho in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four two-turn races leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

Probable post time for the Southwest, which goes as the ninth of 10 races, is 5:10 p.m. (Central.) Doors open Monday at 11 a.m., with first post 1:05 p.m.

The Southwest will offer 17 points (10-4-2-1) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters. Phoenix Thoroughbred III’s Mourinho already has 10 points with a front-running,  3 ¼-length victory in his two-turn debut, the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 15, which marked Baffert’s 13th in a Kentucky Derby prep at Oaklawn – all since 2010.

“He’s trained well since his last race,” Baffert said. “Everything seems well, so we’re just stepping it up a notch here to see if he still fits in.”

The Southwest field from the rail out: My Boy Jack, Kent Desormeaux to ride, 119 pounds, 12-1 on the morning line; Sporting Chance, Luis Saez, 117, 9-2; Mourinho, Drayden Van Dyke, 122, 2-1; Road to Damascus, John Velazquez, 115, 15-1; Seven Trumpets, Robby Albarado, 117, 10-1; Retirement Fund, Shaun Bridgmohan, 115, 15-1; Zing Zang, Corey Lanerie, 115, 15-1; Kentucky Club, Ramon Vazquez, 115, 30-1; Combatant, Ricardo Santana Jr., 115, 6-1; and Ezmosh, Gary Stevens, 115, 12-1.
Mourinho, The Smarty Jones, 1.15.18, Oaklawn
Mourinho has worked four times at Santa Anita since the Smarty Jones, when he was re-equipped with the blinkers. The son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner and Arkansas Derby runner-up Super Saver recorded a 6-furlong bullet (1:12.60) Feb. 1 and covered 7 furlongs in 1:26 Feb. 7, when a stablemate was used as a target.

Being taught to rate doesn’t necessarily mean he will be taken back in the Southwest, Baffert said.

“He’s speed,” Baffert said. “He’s a speed horse. Last time he worked, he was behind because some group broke out in front of him. He handled it well, but he’s a speed horse. He’s doing really well, and we’re excited about it.”

Sporting Chance will be making his 3-year-old and two-turn debut for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Sporting Chance is the most accomplished 3-year-old on the grounds, winning the $350,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) Sept. 4 at Saratoga in his last start. A son of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow, Sporting Chance had a bone chip removed from a knee following the 7-furlong race. He has had six works since Jan. 9 in advance of his comeback race.

“Every horse in the Southwest has had an out or two and it’s really difficult to take horses on at a mile and a sixteenth in world class competition,” Lukas said. “He’s the only horse that hasn’t run.”

But, Lukas added that the Southwest isn’t the primary objective for Sporting Chance, a $575,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sales purchase by the trainer’s longtime client, Robert Baker and William Mack.

“We’d liked to win, we want to win, but we understand this is step one, too,” Lukas said.

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is scheduled to send out three horses – Smarty Jones runner-up Combatant (a stalker), unbeaten Retirement Fund (a front-runner) and Zing Zang (a closer).

Retirement Fund will be making his stakes debut after winning his first two career starts by a combined 9 ¼ lengths at Fair Grounds. Zing Zang exits a fourth-place finish, beaten seven lengths, in the $200,000 LeComte Stakes (G3) Jan. 13 at Fair Grounds.

“They are three very talented 3-year-olds that it will take races like this to sort out,” Asmussen said. “But, I think that they obviously deserve this opportunity.”