Will Combatant Upset Mourinho in the Smarty Jones?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 11th, 2018

When playing the races, one of my favorite angles to watch for is a horse receiving a very specific type of troubled trip, a trip so subtle that many bettors miss its significance.

Normally, a ground-saving trip racing inside of horses is ideal, but only if you are able to unleash your run at the opportune time. In my opinion, this consideration is the key to handicapping the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes on Monday at Oaklawn Park, a prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The horse I like best is #1 Combatant. After breaking his maiden by 2 ¾ lengths going a mile at Churchill Downs, the Steve Asmussen-trainee was entered in the Remington Springboard Mile over the same distance at Remington Park, where he was sent off as the 2-1 favorite. At first glance, it appears he got a pretty good trip that day, saving ground while racing in fourth and rallying in the homestretch to finish second by 2 ¼ lengths behind the talented graded stakes winner Greyvitos.

However, it’s important to note that Combatant was boxed in with nowhere to run at a key point on the far turn, losing ground compared to Greyvitos when the winner made his bid for the lead. Had Combatant been offered a clear run to match strides with Greyvitos, the outcome might have been different—at the very least, I believe Combatant would have finished much closer to Greyvitos. Even in defeat, Combatant earned a solid 91 BRIS speed figure.

#4 Mourinho looks like Combatant’s main competition. Trained by Bob Baffert, who has enjoyed tremendous success in Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep races, Mourinho defeated a quality field in his debut at Santa Anita (recent maiden winner Peace and the Grade 1-placed Instilled Regard finished behind him) and has since run second in a pair of stakes races. His effort in the Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Del Mar last time out was particularly noteworthy, as Mourinho finished a strong second behind the above-mentioned Greyvitos.

Mourinho will be equipped with blinkers in the Smarty Jones after racing without them in the Bob Hope, and on paper he looks like the lone front-runner. However, I can’t shake the feeling that Mourinho might eventually prove best as a sprinter, and since he figures to be a very short price, I’ll try to beat him for the top spot with Combatant. I’ll also consider the chances of #6 Navistar, a Todd Pletcher colt that finished second behind the well-regarded Mask in his debut before winning a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream with a 91 BRIS speed figure.

I'll make Combatant my key horse in the exacta and trifecta:

$5 exacta: 1 with 4,6 ($10) $3 trifecta: 1 with 4,6 with 3,4,6 ($12) $2 trifecta: 4 with 1 with 3,6 ($4)

Good luck!