02/07/2016 1:55PM

Road to the Derby: Robert Lewis Stakes

Emily Shields
Mor Spirit, ridden by Gary Stevens, matched his career-best Beyer Speed Figure (92) in winning the Robert Lewis.

Grade 3, $150,345 Robert Lewis Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Santa Anita, Feb. 6, 2016

(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Mor Spirit, by Eskendereya
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Gary Stevens
Owner: Michael Lund Petersen
Beyer Speed Figure: 92

MOR SPIRIT closed his 2-year-old campaign with a win in the Los Alamitos Futurity and he kicked off his 3-year-old season with a similar victory in the Lewis, in which he equaled his career-best Beyer Speed Figure.

 This race, though, was more impressive  than the Los Alamitos Futurity, because Mor Spirit was likely facing better runners, and had to rally into a softer pace over a track that seemed to favor forwardly placed runners. He overcame those hurdles and now has an enviable record of three wins and two seconds in five starts. In addition, he acts like he’s only getting warmed up at 1 1/16 miles, so the extra distances he will asked to traverse in upcoming months should only be of benefit.

 In the Lewis, Mor Spirit broke alertly and settled into a good stalking spot early, just behind leaders I WILL SCORE and UNCLE LINO. He was taken outside horses down the backstretch to afford a clear run at the leaders, advanced effortlessly in the three path on the far turn, received three well-spaced, left-handed taps of the whip from Stevens coming through the lane and powered past his rivals late while looking as if he could do a lot more. As in the Los Alamitos Futurity, he showed a tendency to and try and lean in during the stretch, but Stevens was obviously ready for it. Stevens is a natural lefty, so his left-handed whip will quickly get a horse’s attention.


Uncle Lino, who finished second, showed sharp speed from his outside stall leaving the gate and was right with I Will Score into the first turn before settling about a length behind him. He moved to engage I Will Score on the far turn and then wound up between rivals when Mor Spirit ranged up outside him. He was asked for his best and could not get past I Will Score in upper stretch, but did get the best of I Will Score in deep stretch, but was no match for Mor Spirit in the final yards.

 I Will Score, who finished third, used his sprinter’s speed to establish the lead, and was able to set a very comfortable pace under Mike Smith. He was seriously challenged by Uncle Lino with about five-sixteenths of a mile to go, dueled with Uncle Lino until deep stretch, but yielded to the top two in the closing yards. This was his two-turn debut, but considering the way the pace unfolded, which was much to his benefit, it would be hard to imagine him doing better going farther in upcoming months.

 The rest were well-beaten.

 DRESSED IN HERMES, who finished fourth, followed Mor Spirit into the backstretch and through the far turn, tipped out to the four path coming off the bend, but went one-paced to the wire while being out-sprinted by the top three. Back to the turf for him.

 LET’S MEET IN RIO, who was fifth, bobbled slightly leaving the gate, found himself in a good stalking position drafting behind I Will Score heading down the backstretch, could not keep up when asked beginning with three furlongs to go, and readily dropped back.

 PATH OF DAVID, who finished last of six, trailed into the first turn while behind Let’s Meet in Rio, was tipped outside Let’s Meet in Rio with three furlongs to go and was urgently asked for his best, but had nothing to offer and raced on his wrong lead in upper stretch. As with Dressed in Hermes, he got his chance to show if could transfer his turf form to dirt. He couldn’t. But he’s already a stakes winner on turf, and that looks like his future.