Astute Kentucky Derby handicappers often look past flashy early spring performances, instead preferring horses ready to peak on the first Saturday in May. Mor Spirit is firmly on the radar of those players.
The colt first made news in early March of 2015 when he commanded a $650,000 price at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Two-Year-Old in Training sale. That figure was the eighth highest at North America's most prestigious juvenile sale.
He made his racing debut on September 27 with a second place run in a 6.5F Maiden Special at Santa Anita. Graduation day came a month later when stretched out to a mile and he's faced nothing but stakes company since.
The dark bay ran second to Airoforce in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), defeating eventual LeComte Stakes hero Mo Tom by a head. He then returned to California to win the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity and the February 6 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3).
In the Los Al race he was rank, fighting Gary Steven for his head in the early stages before settling down and surging past the sprinter Toews on Ice for the win. In the Lewis, he rated like a gentleman in third, tracking the early leaders. Even when stablemate Let's Meet in Rio rushed up along his inside on the backstretch he waited for Stevens' cue. That cue didn't come until after the eighth pole after which he drove past Uncle Lino and previously unbeaten I Will Score to get the money. He continued running well throughout the spring, passing Exaggerator to get second money versus the runaway winner Danzig Candy. In the Santa Anita Derby he again rallied for second over a sloppy surface he clearly did not appreciate.
A son of the Giant's Causeway stallion Eskendereya (now in South Korea), Mor Sprit doesn't 'wow' with an explosive turn of foot. He simply wears opponents down with long consistent strides. According to his trainer, Bob Baffert, and rider, Gary Stevens, he still may need to develop a 'killer instinct' too.
“He has that long stride, but in the mornings, he’s not a very good work horse. He’s sort of lazy," Baffert told reporters after the Lewis. "He needs a target and when he gets a target, he shuts it down, but today was perfect."
"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," added Stevens. "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.”
Mor Spirit couldn't be in more expert hands to continue both his mental and physical development throughout the spring. Hall of Famer Baffert has guided a quartet of colts to the Kentucky Derby winners circle. All four came back in two weeks to win the Preakness and three of them fired their best shots in the Belmont Stakes too with War Emblem the lone exception. Stevens also has a plaque in the Hall of Fame and it has three Derby victories etched on it - Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995) and the Baffert-trained Silver Charm in 1997.
Mor Spirit reminds one of Real Quiet, a tough and consistent customer who emerged from the shadow of stablemate Indian Charlie to score in the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Bettors who remain on the Mor Spirit bandwagon will be handsomely rewarded should he wear the roses.