03/18/2017 7:45PM

Mor Spirit delivers as favorite in Essex Handicap

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Mike Smith guides Mor Spirit to a 2 1/2-length victory in the Essex Handicap.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Mor Spirit showed his class in the $250,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn on Saturday, when the Grade 1 winner pressed a hot pace and drew clear for a 2 1/2-length win over Domain’s Rap. It was another nose back in third to Madefromlucky.

The Essex was the second of three stakes on the program headed by the Rebel won by Malagacy. The attendance on-track was an estimated 36,000.

Mor Spirit ($3) was the 121-pound highweight and favorite on the strength of his form that included a runner-up finish to Hoppertunity in the Grade 2 San Antonio last month at Santa Anita. Mor Spirit broke well and sat just off a stubborn Shotgun Kowboy, who put up fractions of 23.48 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.63 for the half-mile, and 1:10.81 for six furlongs.   

Mor Spirit moved to the fore in the stretch and went on to cover 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.62. The race was the fastest Essex Handicap since 1987, when Sun Master won in 1:41.  

“He’s a really talented horse,” said Mike Smith, who was aboard for trainer Bob Baffert.

Smith said he was pleased with the tracking trip he got Saturday.

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“I was happy where I was,” he said.

Mor Spirit earned $150,000 for the win, his fourth from 11 career starts. Mor Spirit’s most significant career victory came last year at 3, when he captured the Los Alamitos Futurity. He also won the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis last year at Santa Anita. He has now earned $886,400.  

Baffert said Mor Spirit would now return home to Southern California.

Mor Spirit races for Michael Lund Petersen. He is a ridgling by Eskendereya.