Baffert, Asmussen and Lukas Face Off in Southwest Stakes

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3:21 pm EST

Speedy Mourinho Seeks Second Oaklawn Stakes Win

The Southern California-based Bob Baffert will send out 2-1 program favorite Mourinho (pictured) in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes, 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 central time, with first post at 1:05.

The 1 1/16-mile Southwest offers 17 points (10-4-2-1) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Mourinho, owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred III, already has 10 points from a front-running,  3 1/4-length victory in his two-turn debut, Oaklawn's Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 15. The victory was Baffert’s 13th in a Kentucky Derby prep at Oaklawn – all of them coming 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.”

Mourinho has worked four times at Santa Anita since the Smarty Jones, when he was re-equipped with blinkers. The son of Super Saver recorded a six-furlong bullet workout in 1:12.60 on Feb. 1 and worked seven furlongs in 1:26 on Feb. 7, when others were in front of him. But being taught to rate behind a horse doesn’t mean Mourinho 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.”

Asmussen Trio

Trainer Steve Asmussen is scheduled to send out three horses with different styles: Smarty Jones runner-up Combatant (a stalker), unbeaten Retirement Fund (a front-runner) and Zing Zang (a closer).

Combatant finished a non-threatening second to Mourinho in the Smarty Jones. Retirement Fund will make his stakes debut after winning his first two career starts by a combined 9 1/4 lengths at Fair Grounds. Zing Zang exits a fourth-place finish, beaten seven lengths by Instilled Regard, in the LeComte Stakes on 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.”

New Equipment for Sporting Chance

Sporting Chance will don a shadow roll for the first time in the Southwest Stakes.

“It’s a really small one,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “I thought one morning we were out there, and I thought he was looking around a little bit and I put that on him. It’s almost cosmetic, more than anything.”

Usuallly made of sheepskin and attached to the noseband of the bridle,the horse has to look over a shadow roll. In theory, this lowers the horse’s head and restricts vision in order to create better focus on what is front of it.

Sporting Chance hasn’t started since winning the prestigious Hopeful Stakes on Sept. 4 at Saratoga. He was sidelined for surgery to remove a small bone chip from a knee following the seven-furlong race.

Sporting Chance won the Hopeful by a neck after ducking out approaching the wire under Luis Saez.

“I don’t know what happened there,” Lukas said. “He hit him a little bit low, left-handed, and maybe surprised him.”

Sporting Chance, who won two of three starts last year, will make his two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest. His first two starts were at 5 1/2 furlongs.

“Most of time when they do it for the first time, they run pretty good because they don’t know how far they are going to go,” Lukas said. “After that, they get smart. They figure it out, well, that’s all the way around there and better do something different. He’s genuine. The question will be whether I’ve got him seasoned enough at this point – whether he’s fit enough. I think he can get two turns.”

Sporting Chance could be at a disadvantage in terms of seasoning.

“Every horse in the Southwest has had an outing 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. We’d liked to win, we want to win, but we understand this is step one, too."

Lukas is also scheduled to send out Kentucky Club in the Southwest after the Oxbow colt was scratched from Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes. He was winless in five starts in maiden special weight company at age two before breaking his maiden by eight lengths in a $30,000 maiden claiming race on Jan. 27 at Oaklawn.

“He ran so well here in the last quarter of that race that we wanted to see if that was just a good day for him or he has a little quality,” Lukas said. “We’ll find out a little more about him.”

Lukas said Risen Star winner Bravazo, like Kentucky Club owned by Calumet Farm, was scheduled to arrive in Hot Springs late Sunday afternoon, and the Louisiana Derby is on his mind.
My Boy Jack Turf to Dirt to Dirt

My Boy Jack, invading from California, was good enough to run in last year’s Breeders’ Cup, but it wasn't on dirt. The Juvenile Turf  was the colt’s fifth consecutive start on grass.

In his 3-year-old debut, My Boy Jack finished third behind highly regarded McKinzie in the Sham Stakes on Jan 6 at Santa Anita for trainer Keith Desormeaux.

“He’s showed some brilliance on grass, but that remains to be seen the dirt,” Desormeaux said. “I thought his last race was exceptional, but it was off a bit of a freshening, and those were very nice horses. Hopefully, with his style being similar to Sonneteer’s, coming a little off the pace, that it will … California tracks are biased toward speed, so to get to a place like Oaklawn or Fair Grounds, where closers have a little bit more of a chance, I would like to think it accentuates our chances.”

Desormeaux is also scheduled to send out Sonneteer in the Razorback Handicap for older horses Monday at Oaklawn.

The Southwest field from the rail out:
1 My Boy Jack, Kent Desormeaux, 119 pounds, 12-1
2. Sporting Chance, Luis Saez, 117, 9-2
3. Mourinho, Drayden Van Dyke, 122, 2-1
4. Road to Damascus, John Velazquez, 115, 15-1
5. Seven Trumpets, Robby Albarado, 117, 10-1
6. Retirement Fund, Shaun Bridgmohan, 115, 15-1
7. Zing Zang, Corey Lanerie, 115, 15-1
8. Kentucky Club, Ramon Vazquez, 115, 30-1
9. Combatant, Ricardo Santana Jr., 115, 6-1
10. Ezmosh, Gary Stevens, 115, 12-1.

Principe Guilherme was entered Friday but scratched soon thereafter and raced in the Risen Star Stakes on Saturday.

Edited Oaklawn Park release with additional content by Dick Downey