Happy President’s Day! And the “bonus” racing that comes along with it, including a Kentucky Derby Prep from Oaklawn. The Southwest Stakes, a GIII at 8.5 furlongs, has drawn a field of 10, with the scratch of Principe Guiherme. At first glance, it’s a Baffert race to lose, with Mourinho rocking the best speed figure and a significant advantage over the field. And, as usual, I’ll try to beat him, just like we beat Instilled Regard with Brazado at 21-1 in the Risen Star.
The strengths of Mourinho are many. He’s fast — fastest in the field — and won the Smarty Jones over this track. He’s finished first or second in every race. He had a successful 2YO campaign, gaining experience which showed up in the Smarty Jones as he stretched out for the first time. He cost $625K as a 2YO in training. There are some downsides. Baffert doesn’t exactly excel with 2-time starters off the layoff (he rocks the layoff, though), but that’s of less concern b/c of the nature of this animal. He did get an easy lead last time — something that likely won’t happen today.
There are several challengers, starting with the Asmussen-trained Combatant for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing. He finished second in the Smarty Jones, sitting off the pace, and finishing 3 1/4 lengths in arrears. He’ll need to improve and get a more favorable pace, but both are possible. It’s his 3rd start as a 3YO – both routes — which is favorable for another strong performance. Seven Trumpets ran well in the Jerome, but was still significantly slower than needed to win here. He’s likely a pace factor, along with Retirement Fund, Ezmosh, Mourinho, and Sporting Chance.
Sporting Chance makes his 3YO debut after winning the GI Hopeful last year. It’s also his first stretchout for the son of Tiznow. He was an expensive yearling for the Derby Trail veteran in D. Wayne Lukas. He has the most chance to improve among the contenders. Ezmosh comes off a loss by a neck to the upset winner of the Risen Star, Bravazo. He’d need to improve and get a good pace, but is likely too slow.
Analysis: It is Mourinho’s race to lose and there aren’t tremendously strong contenders. Combatant could win at a better pace, but I really like Sporting Chance to improve on his 2YO form. You won’t get 21-1, but you could get 6-1. Add him to your ticket with Mourinho and you should be able to get through the P4.