Will Mourinho Rebound in the Bob Hope Stakes?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Now that the 2017 Breeders' Cup is in the history books, it's time to turn our attention to the Triple Crown trail and start looking for up-and-coming contenders for the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Fortunately, there are several stakes races for two-year-olds scheduled for this weekend, with the $100,000 Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Del Mar being first and foremost.

Held at seven furlongs, the Bob Hope was first run in 1981, and since then trainer Bob Baffert has won eight renewals of the race, including four of the last six with So Brilliant (2011), Really Mr Greely (2012), Toews On Ice (2015), and Mastery (2016). Baffert's record becomes all the more impressive when you consider that he didn't have any starters in 2013 or 2014, so in essence Baffert will be seeking a fifth straight win in the Bob Hope when he sends out Mourinho this Saturday.

Like many Baffert runners, Mourinho has plenty of early speed, which he used to win his debut on September 30th at Santa Anita by 4 ½ lengths after dueling for the early lead through respectable fractions of :22.02 and :45.44. Two weeks later, Mourinho was sent off as the 3-10 favorite in the six-furlong Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita, but wound up battling for the lead through an intense opening quarter-mile in :21.32. He kicked clear following a half-mile in :44.55, leaving his fellow pacesetters in the dust, but not surprisingly Mourinho tired from his early exertions and wound up losing by 1 ¼ lengths to the late-running Beautiful Shot.

Given that Mourinho didn't lose by much despite being part of such a fast pace, it's not hard to picture him turning the tables with a better setup on Saturday. The Bob Hope field doesn't contain a ton of early speed on paper--Italiano looks like the only other front-runner, and he hasn't shown as much speed as Mourinho--and it's worth noting that Baffert is taking the blinkers off Mourinho, which could help the colt relax a bit better. Baffert wins at a solid 26% rate when removing blinkers, and I'm expecting Mourinho to rebound from his Speakeasy defeat and give Baffert a ninth win in the Bob Hope.

Run Away will likely be favored after going 4-for-5 to start his career, with wins in the Santa Anita Juvenile Stakes, Best Pal Stakes (gr. II), and Barretts Juvenile Stakes on his record. But for all his accomplishments, Run Away hasn't been running particularly fast in terms of speed figures, and his career-best Beyer (85) and BRIS (94) speed figures were earned in the Santa Anita Juvenile Stakes back in July. It would come as no surprise if Run Away wins the Bob Hope, but he's entering the race off a seven-week layoff and didn't show his typical early speed when winning the Barretts Juvenile by a head last time out. As the probable favorite, I'm tempted to side against him.

Beautiful Shot must be respected off his late-running win in the Speakeasy, though he did receive a great pace setup that day and might need a similar setup to maintain his edge over Mourinho. If you're looking for a longer-priced horse to play in the exacta, the above-mentioned Italiano might be worth a look. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who won this race in 2013 with Shared Belief, Italiano finished fourth in his debut at Los Alamitos after dueling for the lead, but took a nice step forward in his second start to win a 5 ½-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita by a nose after a prolonged battle for the lead. He'll need to take a step forward to be competitive while stretching out to seven furlongs, but in a race that doesn't have a ton of speed, he could be poised to work out an ideal trip stalking Mourinho through the early stages of the race. Don't be surprised if he hangs on for a prominent spot in the exotics.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Bob Hope Stakes?


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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