October 22, 2021 - Santa Anita, Race 4, Msw, USD $61,000, 6F, .0000
Messier, C, 2, 2019 by Empire Maker
1st Dam: Checkered Past (MSW, $334,284), by Smart Strike
2nd Dam: Catch the Flag, by A.P. Indy
3rd Dam: Catch the Ring, by Seeking the Gold
Owner: Golconda Stable, Madaket Stables LLC, SF Racing LLC, Siena Farm LLC, Starlight Racing, Waves Edge Capital LLC, Catherine Donovan, Robert E. Masterson & Jay A. Schoenfarber
Breeder: Sam-Son Farm (ON)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Crunched into 2-5 favoritism to build on a debut second at Los Alamitos at the end of June, Messier (Empire Maker) made a bold run to the front fully three furlongs from home and coasted in by 6 1/2 lengths to become a new 'TDN Rising Star' in Friday's fourth race from Santa Anita. Away only fairly beneath Flavien Prat, the $470,000 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Showcase graduate worked his way up into a chasing second as the debuting Godsend (Midshipman) went a strong gallop up ahead of him. Prat allowed the heavy chalk to stride into the lead midway on the turn, widened without being asked into the stretch and was not fully extended while scoring by a margin that could have been significantly more. He stopped the clock in 1:10.26. Don't Swear Dave (Connect) completed the exacta, one spot ahead of Messier's stablemate Blackadder (Quality Road).
The winner counts Sovereign Award-winning 3-year-old filly Catch the Ring (Seeking the Gold) as his third dam. She is in turn responsible for champion Catch the Thrill (A.P. Indy), the dam of the current stakes winner Curlin's Catch (Curlin). Messier has a foal half-sister by Candy Ride (Arg), and his dam-herself the winner of the 2014 Trillium S. over Woodbine all-weather-was most recently bred to another standout for the same connections in Authentic.
Messier is the 12th 'Rising Star' for his sadly departed stallion and second in five days, joining Keeneland maiden winner Haughty. Messier's powerful ownership group nicknamed The Avengers has campaigned fellow Empire Maker-sired 'Rising Stars' Classier, winner of the GI Los Alamitos Derby in July; and Eight Rings, the 2019 GI American Pharoah S. hero. With Donato Lanni acting as agent, the conglomerate bought three more Empire Maker colts at last month's Keeneland September sale for a combined $550,000.
"He came out of that race with a little bruised bulb in his heel," said Tom Ryan of co-owner SF Racing when asked about Messier's progress from his June 27 unveiling at 1-2 to Friday's breakout performance. "It was nothing major, but you're better to give them plenty of time. We had given him the experience of a race, and it's amazing how horses really thrive and step forward off that experience. Over the summer, he had gradually come back to himself, and he'd shown plenty in the mornings in his recent works."
The Avengers' deep class of 2-year-old colts also includes the likes of GI Runhappy Del Mar Futurity winner Pinehurst (Twirling Candy).
"He definitely looks like he's got unlimited potential," Ryan said of Messier. "He's got size and scope-distance won't be an issue with him. He's sound, and mentally he's all there. He's exactly the right kind of horse for Bob Baffert. He's thriving on training and he's a very willing individual."
Messier is named after NHL Hall of Famer Mark Messier, who was a teammate of Ryan's wife Katie's father Pat Hughes, along with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr on those legendary Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s.
"I was fortunate enough to go to Edmonton with Katie's father when they were voted the greatest NHL team in history [in 2017, for the 1984-85 team]," Ryan said. "Katie's uncle, Mark Napier, also played for that team, so it was an amazing family event. Clearly I have no connection to hockey, but Katie is as connected as can be. We had such a nice time, and met some great players-hockey players to me are just the coolest, most modest guys. One of the players who stood out to me was Mark Messier. I've met him several times, and he's always so poised, and such a cool guy; modest beyond belief, and incredibly fit despite having been retired for a long time. He really, really impressed me, and I suppose he was and easily could be considered one of the greatest hockey players of all time."