Will Combatant Upset Mourinho in the Southwest Stakes?
In recent years, no trainer has dominated the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races at Oaklawn Park more thoroughly than Bob Baffert.Since 2010, the Hall of Fame trainer has won 13 of the 30 Derby prep races contested at Oaklawn, including four editions of the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (gr. III). Baffert will have a strong chance to add another Southwest victory to his record when he sends out #4 Mourinho to contest the 2018 edition of the race on February 19th.
Certainly Mourinho looked like a serious racehorse when winning the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn last month by 3 ¼ lengths, earning an eye-catching 99 BRIS speed figure. But as I noted at the time, Mourinho took advantage of a perfect setup that day, securing a very easy lead against four rivals and carving out slow fractions of :23.33, :48.09, and 1:12.27, which gave him a virtually insurmountable advantage.
Suffice to say, the conditions could be very different in the Southwest Stakes. This time around, Mourinho will be facing ten rivals, and six of them--#2 Sporting Chance, #3 Principe Guilherme, #5 Road to Damascus, #6 Seven Trumpets, #7 Retirement Fund, and #11 Ezmosh—have shown the ability to race on or near the lead, which should ensure that the early pace is faster than in the Smarty Jones.
In addition, Mourinho will be carrying the top weight of 122 pounds in the Southwest, seven more than he carried in the Smarty Jones. This subtle but significant shift in weight, coupled with the potential for a faster pace, should help the chances of #10 Combatant. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the son of Scat Daddy had no serious chance to catch Mourinho in the Smarty Jones while attempting to rally from mid-pack, but nevertheless gave it a game try and was closing the gap in the final furlong.
Since his debut on turf last September, Combatant has shown gradual but steady improvement with every race, and with a perfect setup appearing likely for the Southwest, I think he can turn the tables on Mourinho. Keep in mind that Combatant will be carrying seven pounds less than Mourinho after they both carried 115 in the Smarty Jones.
Since the possibility of a pace meltdown could make it difficult to nail down the exotics, we won’t get too fancy here, focusing instead on betting Combatant to win and playing him in the exacta with a few of the other contenders.
$15 to win on #10 Combatant $5 exacta: 4,10 with 4,10 ($10) $2 exacta: 4 with 1,8,11 ($6)