Mor Spirit drills five furlongs with Stevens
Edited Press Release
Grade 1 winner Mor Spirit, runner-up to Exaggerator in the April 9 Santa Anita Derby (G1), put in his first breeze over the Churchill Downs main track for the Kentucky Derby (G1) on Tuesday morning during the special 8:30-8:45 a.m. (EDT) training window reserved for possible starters in the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Working in company with stablemate Jimbo Fallon, the son of Eskendreya breezed five furlongs in :59.80, producing eighth-mile splits of :11.40, :22.40, :34.20, and :46 before galloping out three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.20 and seven furlongs in 1:27 with regular rider Gary Stevens in the irons. It was the second fastest of 18 works at the distance over the fast track.
“Loved the work,” said Stevens, who will be looking for his fourth Kentucky Derby victory. “The work went great; he was very aggressive going to the pole, which is not always him. He’s a little quirky sometimes. Bob (Baffert) put a little more blinkers on him this morning to get him a little more focused and it did the job. He went to the pole aggressive, was aggressive throughout the work, he galloped out strong into the backstretch.”
The pilot in six of Mor Spirit’s seven career starts, Stevens is confident in Mor Spirit’s ability to get the 1 ¼-mile distance.
“I can’t get the horse tired and that’s a good thing when you’re going a mile and a quarter,” Stevens said. “I don’t think that distance is going to be a problem but he’s come along at the right time. This has been the focus since last year in December; we’ve been pointing the Derby. We’re two weeks away.”
Stevens reflected on Mor Spirit’s second-place effort in the Santa Anita Derby.
“We haven’t got to the bottom of him,” Stevens said. “In the Santa Anita Derby, I won’t say that he didn’t like the surface, but he didn’t like the kickback coming back. I felt like he ran about 80 percent for me and still finished second. He’s got some gears and I’ve felt them in the morning and I’ve felt them in the afternoon. Unfortunately I didn’t feel them in the Santa Anita Derby so hopefully he brings the ‘A’ game.”
Baffert, who is tied for the second most Kentucky Derby wins ever with four, spoke highly of the horse’s work.
“He worked well today,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “He’s never been a real willing worker. He got a good work today, seems like he (Stevens) didn’t go too hard on him. This track is pretty quick, but it was good for him, he got into it. When Gary worked him a few weeks ago he started off slow and kind of lost interest. The surface is really kind on him, he likes the surface.”
It’s much quieter around Baffert’s Churchill barn this year. Last year he was the focus of most of the buzz having started two of the favorites, eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Dortmund, who was undefeated going into the race.
“It’s quieter, but it should be,” Baffert said. “Last year we came with two top horses. One who was undefeated, Dortmund, and American Pharoah had come off that ridiculous race (Arkansas Derby) at Oaklawn Park so they had stamped themselves, especially Pharoah with the way he won. It’s a different vibe, but it’s still exciting, it’s still good to be here. Mr. (Michael) Lund (Petersen) flew in from Maryland to watch his horse work, he’s getting into it and it’s fun for him. He’s learning the process of it all.”
Baffert and Stevens have collectively found Kentucky Derby success with Silver Charm in 1997.
“It’s fun with Gary because he’s focused,” Baffert said. “He knows what we need to and we’re getting to know this horse and we’ve been here before and we’re both getting older now so we appreciate it more and we’re enjoying it more, before we used to come in here and try to win one of these things. Once you’ve been here so many times, you know what you need to do, just stay focused and enjoy yourself as long as everything is going smooth, so that’s the whole key.”
Baffert reflected on last year’s Triple Crown experience with American Pharoah, who became the first horse in 37 years to win all three American classics.
“What I bring from the Triple Crown is what I got to share with my wife and my kids and just the noise and the emotion,” Baffert said. “I’ll never forget, it was just deafening, that’s what I take from it that I was actually involved in sports history. The people who were there will always remember that how loud it was. The noise was just incredible. I wasn’t really rooting for the horse I was just listening to the noise and we were all crying.
“The noise is what I’ll never forget and it kept on going and my wife Jill was there. This game can get you down and it can get you bitter sometimes but that just made up for everything.”
Mor Spirit has racing experience under the Twin Spires, finishing second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last November in his stakes debut. He followed with victories in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and Robert B. Lewis (G2) before finishing second in the San Felipe (G2) and Santa Anita Derby.
Baffert’s first two Kentucky Derby winners, Silver Charm and Real Quiet, both recorded runner-up finishes in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby before shipping to Churchill Downs.
Photo of Mor Spirit (outside) courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography