02/04/2017 5:08PM

Espinoza picks up another Derby prospect as Royal Mo wins Robert Lewis

Emily Shields
Royal Mo, ridden by Victor Espinoza, draws away to a 3 1/2-length win in the Robert Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds.

ARCADIA, Calif. – If we’re approaching springtime, jockey Victor Espinoza must have prospects for the Kentucky Derby. He has won it three times, twice in the last three runnings, with California Chrome and American Pharoah, and he is moving forward again this year, with Gormley and Royal Mo, both owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, both trained by John Shirreffs, and both now graded stakes winners this meet at Santa Anita.

 Gormley won the Grade 3 Sham last month, and on Saturday it was Royal Mo’s turn, as he scored a front-running victory over four rivals in the Grade 3, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes.

 Royal Mo ($5), the second choice, was sent along from his inside draw, set fractions of 23.86 seconds, 47.37, and 1:11.50 through the first six furlongs with Irap in closest attendance, and then drew away through the lane to prevail by 3 1/2 lengths over Irap, who held second by a neck over 7-5 favorite Sheer Flattery.

 Term of Art was fourth and Dangerfield last in the field of five.

 Royal Mo was timed in 1:43.48 for 1 1/16 miles over a fast main track. Thirty minutes earlier, maiden 3-year-olds went the same distance in 1:44.40.

 “He’s such a big horse. He’s heavy. He doesn’t have that quickness the first couple of strides, but as soon as he gets into rhythm, he’ll keep going,” Espinoza said. “I drew the inside. I wanted to be on the outside so I could track the leaders, but I didn’t want to take any chances so I went to the front. I knew there wasn’t going to be much speed.

 “He’s improving. From last time to this, he’s going the right way. We have two chances. Hopefully we can go all the way.”

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 Royal Mo picked up 10 points on the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the Kentucky Derby on May 6. Gormley is farther along, with two graded stakes wins and additional points, but Espinoza thinks Royal Mo will continue to improve.

“Gormley is doing great,” he said.  “These two, I’ve liked from the beginning. Gormley is more forward than Royal Mo, but Royal Mo is improving. I was pleased with the way he ran today. John has a good team. We’ve got two nice chances to make the Derby.”

 Shirreffs and the Mosses won the Derby in 2005 with Giacomo.

 Royal Mo, by Uncle Mo, was purchased as a yearling for $300,000. He finished second in a pair of sprints against maidens before defeating maidens in his third start, his first around two turns, on Nov. 27 at Del Mar. This was his first start since then. He earned $90,000 on Saturday.

 Shirreffs now will have to figure out the best way to manage both Gormley and Royal Mo. The next local Derby prep is the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe on March 11. At least one should be there. But airline tickets likely will have to be booked for the other.

 Jerry Moss said he figured “we’ll go to Arkansas with one and stay here with the other.”

 “Obviously you don’t really want to run them together,” Shirreffs said. “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”