Kentucky Derby: 2018 Smarty Jones Stakes Picks
Horses to Beat
Baffert, Pletcher and Asmussen. These big name trainers are always well-represented on the Triple Crown trail and the Smarty Jones figures to run directly through their barns. Steve Asmussen will saddle a pair of runners in Combatant (2/1) and Tap Daddy (8/1) while Todd Pletcher sends out maiden winner Navistar (5/2).
It’s Bob Baffert, however, who has the deserving favorite in Mourinho (3/2). Baffert is no stranger to shipping three year-olds to Oaklawn successfully, having won 6 editons of the Rebel Stakes since 2010 including the 2015 renewal with eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Mourinho has raced exclusively in one-turn races through his first three starts, winning a maiden race and finishing second in a pair of stakes events. His last race, a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes, looks even stronger in retrospect as the winner, Greyvitos, returned to easily win the Springboard Mile at Retama. A son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Mourinho has earned Beyer Speed Figures of 86 and 90 while no other runner in the Smarty Jones has eclipsed 84.
Handicappers looking for some common running lines will notice that Combatant earned the 84 Beyer Speed Figure in reference while finishing second behind Greyvitos in the Springboard Mile. On class and speed, the Smarty Jones certainly looks to be a showdown between Combatant and Mourinho with the others on the outside looking in.
- 1) Combatant (2/1)
- 2) Lone Rock(12/1)
- 3) Tap Daddy (8/1)
- 4) Mourinho (3/2)
- 5) Arched Feather (30/1)
- 6) Navistar (5/2)
- 7) Bode’s Maker
If there is a runner to challenge the top two, it’s clearly Navistar who may only have a maiden score to his credit, but offers plenty of upside. Purchased for $900,000 last March as a two year-old in training, the son of 2012 Belmont Stakes and Florida Derby winner Union Rags has plenty of pedigree and an impressive company line of his own.
In his debut, Navistar ran second to Mask Oct.20 at Belmont. That runner came back to win last weekend’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream impressively and is one to follow on the Triple Crown trail. Navistar followed that with a sharp maiden victory Dec.16 at Gulfstream going a one-turn mile and Pletcher thinks highly enough of this one to ship to Oaklawn from south Florida.
I’d be surprised if the winner came outside the trio of Combatant, Mourinho, and Navistar. All three of these runners have Hall of Fame trainers and pedigrees that suggest they’ll improve as the races get longer.
Mourinho adds blinkers and appears primed for a gate-to-wire try, but Navistar has enough early speed to stay in contact and Combatant figures to make a stretch bid from mid-pack. I like that Combatant is the only one from this group with two-turn experience and that he should improve second off the layoff for Asmussen who wins at a 21% clip with such runners. I give him a slim edge and will be excited to watch these horses develop over the next few months. Don’t be shocked if the second and third-place runners from this race come back to win a key KY Derby prep this spring.
- 1st: Combatant
- 2nd: Navistar
- 3rd: Mourinho
- 4th: Lone Rock
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