05/05/2017 1:10PM

Baffert seeking meaningful win with Mor Spirit in Steve Sexton Mile

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Mor Spirit comes into the Steve Sexton Mile off a 2 1/4-length win in the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – Trainer Bob Baffert has a number of logical reasons for sending Mor Spirit to Lone Star Park for the Grade 3, $200,000 Steve Sexton Mile on Sunday. There’s also an emotional one.

“It’s named after a good friend,” said Baffert.

Sexton, who died in December at the age of 57, was part of the original management team at Lone Star. He also was a longtime executive with Churchill Downs. Last month, Lone Star renamed its Texas Mile in honor of Sexton, and ontrack activities Sunday will raise awareness for a cause important to him, putting underprivileged youth through college.

Mor Spirit, a Grade 1 winner coming off a stirring victory in the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn, is expected to go favored over eight quality rivals. Great Minds is defending his title from 2016. Iron Fist comes off a third-place finish in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap. Texas Chrome and Shotgun Kowboy are winners of the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby. American Dubai is attempting to win his fifth straight race.

Steve Sexton Mile, Race 8

KEY CONTENDERS

Mor Spirit, by Eskendereya

Last 3 Beyers: 105-101-98

◗ Mor Spirit, a two-time graded stakes winner, comes off a 2 1/4-length victory in the $250,000 Essex Handicap on March 18. He was always prominent while zipping through 1 1/16 miles in a rapid 1:41.62.

“He ran huge,” Baffert said. “He just needs to run that same race.”

◗ Mor Spirit is shortening up some in distance for a couple of reasons, said Baffert.

“I like the mile [for him],” he said, “and it could set him up for the Met Mile.”

The Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap will be run June 10 at Belmont.

◗ Baffert has won more runnings of the Texas Mile than any other trainer, taking the inaugural edition in 1997 with Isitingood and winning the race in 2006 with Preachinatthebar and 2010 with Mythical Power.

◗ Mor Spirit will start from post 2 under Mike Smith.

“The break’s going to be important,” Baffert said, adding that he will leave tactics up to Smith.

Great Minds, by Stroll

Last 3 Beyers: 79-89-88

◗ He was a half-length winner of this race a year ago, one of three straight one-mile races he won between February and May 2016.

“He’s done well at this particular trip,” said trainer Al Stall.

◗ Great Minds will break from post 4 under Colby Hernandez.

“He usually lays fairly close,” Stall said. “He’s a stalker.”

Iron Fist, by Tapit

Last 3 Beyers: 96-95-92

◗ He’s cutting back in distance from 1 1/8 miles in the New Orleans Handicap and was a multiple winner at a mile when based in Southern California.

◗ Iron Fist has the meet’s winningest trainer-jockey team in Steve Asmussen and Iram Diego, who over the first two weeks of the meet won 16 races together.

◗ Iron Fist is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Sweet Lulu.

American Dubai, by E Dubai

Last 3 Beyers: 97-92-84

◗ His streak started in February, when he won an optional-claiming race at a mile at Sunland Park. He proceeded to win twice more at similar levels and the same distance before stretching out to 1 1/8 miles and capturing the $150,000 Sunland Park Handicap in his most recent start April 16.

◗ American Dubai set a Sunland track record for a mile on March 7, covering the distance in 1:34.50. He was a five-length winner under Ken Tohill, who has the mount Sunday from post 9.