Mor Spirit too good for Lewis rivals, moves to second on Kentucky Derby leaderboard

February 6th, 2016

Jockey Gary Stevens had the competition measured turning for home and when he asked Mor Spirit for his best, the imposing 3-year-old rolled to a comfortable 1 1/2-length decision in Saturday’s $150,345 Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita.

A dark bay ridgling from the first crop of Eskendreya, Mor Spirit moved to second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, picking up an additional 10 points to increase his total to 24. The Pennsylvania-bred is owned by Michael Lund Petersen.

Trainer Bob Baffert padded his record with a sixth Lewis victory, winning for the third time in the last four years, and the Hall of Fame trainer has a top Kentucky Derby contender in Mor Spirit as he seeks to grab sole possession of second all-time with a fifth victory.

“He’s a big, strong horse so these races will help him,” Baffert said. “He holds his weight really well and he’s a good-feeling horse. We just have to keep him healthy. I feel like I have a really top three-year-old, so now we just have to keep him healthy.”

After finishing second in his debut, Mor Spirit easily broke his maiden when stretching out to two turns at Santa Anita in late October. He followed with a runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) a month later over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs, and came back to post a 1 ½-length tally in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) on December 19.

Mor Spirit was favored at 3-5 over five Lewis rivals.

“We thought this race might come up the way it did,” Baffert added. “I thought the last race (Los Alamitos Futurity) was a very important race because when I got him back from Kentucky (in the Jockey Club at Churchill Downs), Martin (Garcia) had him on the lead because it was muddy and I had shipped him, and he didn’t want to do that, so the way Gary rode him at Los Alamitos, he made him get back and he really educated him and he got the win.

“Today was the same thing: get the win and educate him at the same time. You can do that when you have this kind of horse, with his style. You know he’s a really good horse.”

Mor Spirit stalked the pace in third as I Will Score showed the way on the front end, with Uncle Lino tracking the pace in second through moderate opening splits of :23.49 and :47.78. The top two continued to hold their position through the far turn as Mor Spirit edged closer, 1 ½ lengths back after three-quarters in 1:12.34.

Stevens sat chilly turning for home, guiding his mount to the outside of I Will Score and Uncle Limo in midstretch, and Mor Spirit responded to urgings in the final furlong, powering past to win going away under the wire. He stopped the teletimer in 1:43.21.

“He has that long stride, but in the mornings, he’s not a very good work horse. He’s sort of lazy,”Baffert noted. “He needs a target and when he gets a target, he shuts it down, but today was perfect. They were two really nice horses (Uncle Lino and I Will Score). There’s a lot of quality. It makes the race even more interesting in that he’s able to collar those horses."

Stevens was asked about the trip.

“I never had any concerns. I actually got there quicker than I wanted to,” the Hall of Fame rider said. “I was loaded going into the stretch. He’s pretty special and I’m looking forward to facing more competition.

“He wasn’t even blowing after the race. I haven’t been able to get him tired in the morning yet. Every time we step forward I hope I can find the bottom…but I don’t want to find the bottom of him until it’s time. I haven’t got close to that yet and that’s a good feeling. He seems to just do just enough for what’s in front of him; he likes a target. I think as he faces better horses, he’ll only get better.”

Uncle Lino won the battle for second, a half-length better than I Will Score. It was another 5 ¾ lengths back to Dressed in Hermes in fourth, and Let’s Meet in Rio and Path of David competed the order of finish. Laoban was withdrawn.

Bred by Elkstone Group LLC, Mor Spirit is out of the multiple stakes-winning Dixie Union mare Im a Dixie Girl. This is the same female family of 2015 champion 3-year-old filly Stellar Wind and Grade 1 winner Great Hunter. Mor Spirit initially sold for $85,000 as a yearling before bringing $650,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Florida March 2-year-old sale.

With the $90,000 payday, Mor Spirit has now earned $378,400.

Baffert was asked whether Mor Spirit will remain at Santa Anita for his next race.

“I don’t know. We know he’ll go on a plane to go somewhere (as he did going to Kentucky) but right now I’ll just go by how he’s doing. It’s just too far ahead.”

Photo courtesy of Benoit Photos