A 13-month absence from the winner’s circle ended for the four-year-old Mor Spirit on Saturday when the California invader outclassed six rivals in the $250,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn.
The 1-2 favorite under Mike Smith, the son of Eskendereya pressed Shotgun Kowboy through splits of :23.48, :46.63, and 1:10.81, with second choice Madefromlucky hounding those two from a three-wide position.
Overtaking Shotgun Kowboy at the top of the stretch, Mor Spirit turned back a mid-stretch challenge from the second choice and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:41.62 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track. He paid $3. Domain’s Rap, a 15-1 chance, was along late to nose out Madefromlucky for the place.
Owned by Michael Lund Peterson and trained by Bob Baffert, Mor Spirit was the only Grade 1 winner in the field (2015 Los Alamitos Futurity) and had not won in five starts dating back to the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita last February. The ridgling has also picked up a number of second-place honors in races like the Santa Anita Derby (G1), San Felipe (G2), Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), and San Antonio (G2) in his season debut February 4.
“Brilliant trip and he was leading up to an effort like this, to be honest with you,” Smith said. “His first race back (since the Kentucky Derby, when fourth in the December 26 Malibu [G1]) was seven-eighths, which was too short for him. But he still sneaky well. Came back his second race going long, which he wants to do. But he ran into Hoppertunity, who’s a Grade 1 winner.
“He ran extremely well in that race. I actually had to go after someone probably a little too early. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have waited longer with him. Not sure the outcome would have been different. And today, he was ready. Really ready. He ‘jumped’ well and he was on the bridle the whole way and won really nice.”
Bred in Pennsylvania by the Elkstone Group, Mor Spirit was an $85,000 Fasig-Tipton October yearling and $650,000 Fasig-Tipton Florida juvenile purchase. He’s out of the stakes-winning Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union, and hails from the female family of champion filly Stellar Wind and Grade 1 winner Great Hunter.
Mor Spirit has now earned $886,400 from a line of 11-4-5-0.