Michael Lund Petersen's Mor Spirit was very confidently handled in Saturday's Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by Gary Stevens. The sophomore son of Eskendereya covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.21 over the fast main track for trainer Bob Baffert to garner the winning share of the $150,000 purse as well as ten more points on the road to the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
The race set up as it appeared on paper, with stakes-debuting pair I Will Score and Uncle Lino striking out together for the early lead, tracked by Mor Spirit. By the time the field reached the backstretch, I Will Score had extended himself to a one-length lead over Uncle Lino, covering the first quarter in :23.49. Mor Spirit was joined in third by his stablemate Let's Meet in Rio, as the leadership remained unchanged through a half in :47.78.
Entering the final turn, Fernando Perez went to work on Uncle Lino, who ranged up outside of I Will Score to challenge. Meanwhile, Stevens was still riding high on Mor Spirit, having not asked the colt to run as he ranged up outside the leaders. Entering the stretch after three-quarters in 1:12.34, it looked to be a three-horse race, but a couple of left-handed reminders from Stevens and Mor Spirit drew off to win by just 1 1/2 lengths, galloping out strongly past the wire. Uncle Lino ran a huge race to be second by a half-length in front of I Will Score.
“He wasn't even blowing after the race,” said Stevens. “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.”
Bred in Pennsylvania by the Elkstone Group, Mor Spirit was a $650,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Select Sale of 2-year-olds in training. The colt improved his record to 3-2-0 from five career starts, and has moved himself into second in the Kentucky Derby point standings with 24 points, just behind Nyquist with 30.
“He's a big, strong horse so these races will help him,” said Baffert. “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.”
Uncle Lino's trainer Gary Sherlock didn't indicate any Kentucky Derby dreams, saying: “We'll move forward off of this. He won't be leaving here. I don't have to go anywhere; there's a million dollar race four hundred yards from his stall (Santa Anita Derby April 9).”
Watch the race replay here:
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