By Andrew Caulfield
It almost seems like tempting fate to name a horse after a man who once declared at a press conference that he thinks he is special. The man in question, soccer manager Jose Mourinho, now virtually owns the nickname of “The Special One,” with journalist Sean Gibson once commenting that “he has helped write his own legend with spectacular triumphs on the pitch, volatile behavior off it, and sabre-toothed soundbites from which no one in football could count themselves safe.”
That’s a lot to live up to, but the equine Mourinho is doing pretty well, without displaying the cussedness now expected of his namesake. The son of Super Saver transformed his $30,000 price as a yearling into a $625,000 price tag with a :20 1/5 bullet work at the 2-year-old sales, well before his actual second birthday on May 21. He then became a ‘TDN Rising Star’ with a debut victory over a field which included Instilled Regard (Arch) at Santa Anita last September. And now he has recorded his first stakes victory in the Smarty Jones S., to theoretically put himself on the road to the GI Kentucky Derby–a race won by his sire Super Saver in 2010.
All this has made him the current poster boy for Super Saver, whose other 2018 stakes winner is Inside Straight, winner of last year’s GII Oaklawn H. It is worth mentioning at this point that Mourinho is a member of Super Saver’s cheapest crop, sired at a fee of $17,500 in 2014.
The WinStar stallion hasn’t been immune to the fluctuating fortunes which dog many a young stallion. You would think that any Kentucky Derby winner would be guaranteed healthy support after his retirement, but Super Saver’s initial fee of $20,000 indicated that there were a few obstacles standing in his way.
The first was that he was the second son of Maria’s Mon to win the Derby and his predecessor, Monarchos, had hardly set the world alight as a stallion. Having started out at $25,000 at Claiborne, Monarchos’s fee stood no higher than $6,000 by 2011, the year that Super Saver made his debut as a stallion. Monarchos still has only two Northern Hemisphere graded stakes winners to his credit, from more than 500 foals of racing age.
Then there was Super Saver’s own racing record to take into account. He had failed to build on his Kentucky Derby success, finishing eighth in the GI Preakness S., fourth in the GI Haskell Invitational and 10th of 11 in the GI Travers S. In fact his Derby win was his only success from six starts as a 3-year-old. Fortunately, he had partly compensated for this by running out a five-length winner of the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., showing that he had inherited plenty of the juvenile ability which had made Maria’s Mon the champion 2-year-old of 1995.
There were also some definite pluses to be found in Super Saver’s pedigree, especially on his dam’s side. His dam Supercharger represents the celebrated A.P. Indy/Mr. Prospector cross which is also responsible for the likes of Mineshaft, Pulpit, Malibu Moon, Congrats and Flatter, who collectively have around 40 Grade I winners to their credit. Supercharger has also advertised this nick’s merits, with Super Saver being the first of her three graded stakes winners. So, too, have her sisters Daydreaming and She’s A Winner. They are respectively the dams of Imagining (GI Man o’War S.) and Bluegrass Cat (runner-up in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and GI Belmont S. prior to taking the GI Haskell Invitational).
For the pedigree purists, Super Saver also had the attraction of having the champion 2-year-old Numbered Account as his fourth dam. Numbered Account was inbred 4×5 to La Troienne, the legendary mare who appears no fewer than seven times in Super Saver’s pedigree. This includes three lines (4x5x5) to La Troienne’s brilliant great-grandson Buckpasser.
It took Super Saver no time at all to demonstrate that he is capable of siring high-class performers with plenty of speed. This speed first became apparent at the 2-year-old sales of 2014, which saw his first-crop youngsters sell for such impressive prices as $750,000, $675,000, $600,000 and $525,000.
The 2014 Saratoga meeting showed several of these high-priced juveniles to excellent effect. The $750,000 colt, Competitive Edge, became a ‘TDN Rising Star’ when he came home more than 10 lengths clear over six furlongs on July 26. The following day saw the $675,000 High Dollar Woman take another six-furlong maiden special weight. And then the $600,000 I Spent It improved his record to two wins from as many starts with a courageous win in the GII Saratoga Special over 6 ½ furlongs. At the end of the Saratoga meet, I Spent It finished second in the GI Hopeful S., nearly six lengths behind the impressive Competitive Edge.
Super Saver’s first crop was also in fine form at Saratoga a year later. Embellish The Lace became his second Grade I winner when she led throughout in the Alabama S., and Grade I winner number three soon followed, with the sensational Runhappy landing the King’s Bishop S. as a prelude to further Grade I triumphs in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and the Malibu S.
All the above was surely very beneficial to Super Saver. Those high prices at the 2-year-old sales must have been one of the reasons why Super Saver’s 2014 book numbered around 150 mares, compared to 97 mares the previous year. Then Super Saver’s close second behind Quality Road among 2014’s first-crop sires was even more helpful. With his fee doubled to $35,000, he covered 165 mares in 2015, And the 2015 exploits of Runhappy, Embellish The Lace and Competitive Edge prompted another increase in Super Saver’s fee, this time to $65,000 in 2016, when he attracted 154 mares.
I was interested by the Super Saver advertisement which ran in yesterday’s TDN, charting the number of graded stakes winners or producers which visited Super Saver during his first six years. The figures were 26, 14, 5, 8, 32 and 38, while the totals for Grade I winners or producers stood at 7, 4, 0, 3, 7 and 11.
This strongly suggests that Super Saver’s 2016 and 2017 crops are destined to shine brightly. The 2016 crop has already made its mark, with yearlings selling for $625,000, $430,000 and $425,000, off a fee of $35,000.
As Mourinho was sired at $17,500 and was originally sold for $30,000, it would be unfair to expect him to have a pedigree full of graded winners. His dam Sandi’s Ready, a stakes-placed More Than Ready mare who raced mainly on turf, sold for $150,000 last November. However, her price had been no higher than $12,000 in January 2016. She was then sent to Hangover Kid, an inexpensive Grade II turf winner based in Maryland.
Although More Than Ready’s daughters are still awaiting their first Grade I winner in the U.S., they have already been represented by five in Australia and New Zealand, including the fast performers Miracles of Life, Rebel Dane and Delectation. This adds to my suspicion that Mourinho may struggle to stay a mile and a quarter, even though he is by a Kentucky Derby winner. His second dam, the Mr. Greeley mare Snickeez, did most of her winning over sprint distances, as did her stakes-winning half-brother Out Of My Way.