For all he has achieved in the Thoroughbred business–a Triple Crown, near Triple Crowns, multiple Dubai World Cups and Breeders’ Cup Classics and countless champions–trainer Bob Baffert had yet to saddle a winner of the prestigious GI Metropolitan H. at Belmont Park. In the space of a bit more than 93 seconds Saturday afternoon at Big Sandy, the veteran conditioner finally managed to cross the heretofore elusive event off his bucket list when Michael Lund Petersen’s Mor Spirit (Eskendereya) worked out a soft trip just off the flank of pacesetting Sharp Azteca (Freud), took over from that one at will in upper stretch and whooshed away to decimate his rivals by 5 3/4 lengths in the first of the afternoon’s seven-figure tilts.
Mor Spirit was completing an impossibly magical day for the trainer, who also legged up Mike Smith aboard West Coast (Flatter) in the Easy Goer S., Abel Tasman (Quality Road) in the GI Acorn S. and American Anthem (Bodemeister) in the GII Woody Stephens S.
“It’s a pretty incredible day for us,” Baffert commented. “To be able to pull this off and I wish I had another horse in. On a big day like this, for them to run, like this, it’s pretty incredible.”
Making his first start since a pacesetting third in the G2 Godolphin Mile at Meydan Mar. 25, second choice Sharp Azteca won the break, but Smith refused to let that one steal away and sent Mor Spirit into the breach to press the early issue. While the two market leaders looked to be the speed of the race and while they eyeballed each other down the backstretch, the pace was not overly demanding by Met Mile standards, with the opening quarter-mile in :23.20 and a half in :46.05. Smith gradually allowed Mor Spirit to creep up alongside Sharp Azteca and the pair dueled heads apart passing the quarter-mile marker, but the race was over for all intents and purposes, as Mor Spirit swept to an unassailable advantage entering the final furlong and sprinted home a convincing winner. Sharp Azteca held for second ahead of Tommy Macho, who split rivals on the turn, but couldn’t quite match strides with the top two late. Awesome Slew rallied wide into the lane and did well to be fourth.
“That was pretty impressive, I have to admit,” said Baffert. “All my horses were impressive today, but this horse the way he ran today, how fast he ran it was incredible. Turning for home I felt pretty good about it because it was a manageable pace. Especially him with a horse in front I could tell Mike was just sitting.
He continued, “He couldn’t have looked any better in the paddock. If it was a show he would’ve won best in show. He’s a beautiful horse. We took a different route to get here and sometimes it doesn’t work out but today it did. It’s funny; people were trying to buy this horse earlier in the year and I said no, he’s worth a lot more than that and actually when people are trying to buy your horse that’s a good thing. That means your horse is training well and the word’s out.
And of the day’s accomplishments, Baffert added. “It’s a pretty incredible day for us. To be able to pull this off and I wish I had another horse in. On a big day like this, for them to run, like this, it’s pretty incredible.”
Winner of the GI Los Alamitos Futurity at two, Mor Spirit won the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. and was runner-up as the favorite in the GII San Felipe S. and GI Santa Anita Derby, grinding home at one pace each time. A midpack 10th in the GI Kentucky Derby, the Pennsylvania-bred returned with an even fourth to Mind Your Biscuits (Posse) in the GI Malibu S. over an insufficient seven furlongs Dec. 26. Excuse-free when second to stablemate Hoppertunity (Any Given Saturday) in the GII San Antonio S. Feb. 4, Mor Spirit beat up on much softer in his last two in the Mar. 18 Essex H. at Oaklawn Park and in the GIII Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star May 7.
Mor Spirit’s dam was a two-time stakes winner and Grade III-placed at two and was purchased by Midlantic-based The Elkstone Group for $75,000 in foal to Curlin at Keeneland November in 2010. The winner’s second dam, herself a four-time black-type winner and third in Grade III company, is also the dam of SW First Ascent (Cherokee Run). Great Hunter (Aptitude), another Grade I winner bred in Pennsylvania, and champion Stellar Wind (Curlin) appear under Mor Spirit’s third dam. The Elkstone Group cashed out on their investment in I’m a Dixie Girl last fall, selling her to R. J. Bennett for $475,000 pregnant to American Pharoah at the Fasig-Tipton November sale. The mare’s most recent produce is a Maryland-bred yearling full-brother to Mor Spirit named Bad Dude, who RNAd for $190,000 at FTKNOV last year.
Saturday, Belmont Park
MOHEGAN SUN METROPOLITAN H.-GI, $1,200,000, BEL, 6-10, 3yo/up, 1m, 1:33.71, ft.
1–MOR SPIRIT, 120, r, 4, by Eskendereya
1st Dam: Im a Dixie Girl (MSW & GSP, $167,320), by Dixie Union
2nd Dam: Im Out First, by Allen’s Prospect
3rd Dam: Sequins, by Northern Fashion
($85,000 Ylg ’14 FTKOCT; $650,000 2yo ’15 FTFMAR).
O-Michael Lund Petersen; B-Elkstone Group, LLC (PA); T-Bob
Baffert; J-Mike E. Smith. $650,000. Lifetime Record: 13-6-5-0,
$1,658,400. Werk Nick Rating: C.
Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2–Sharp Azteca, 122, c, 4, Freud–So Sharp, by Saint Liam.
($35,000 Ylg ’14 OBSAUG; $220,000 2yo ’15 OBSAPR). O-Ivan
Rodriguez; B-Cloyce C. Clark (KY); T-Jorge Navarro. $220,000.
3–Tommy Macho, 116, h, 5, Macho Uno–Starstream, by
Awesome Again. ($25,000 Ylg ’13 FTKOCT). O-Paul P. Pompa,
Jr. & J Stables; B-John Liviakis (KY); T-Todd A. Pletcher.
Margins: 6 1/4, 3 1/4, 1. Odds: 2.55, 3.00, 15.60.
Also Ran: Awesome Slew, Economic Model, Rally Cry, Tom’s Ready, Solid Wager, Virtual Machine, Denman’s Call, Mohaymen, Inside Straight. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. NBC HD Video Replay.