Mor Spirit wins the March 18 Essex Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths

Mor Spirit wins the March 18 Essex Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths

Coady Photography

Mor Spirit Ships to Oaklawn, Takes Essex Handicap

Son of Eskendereya has now won a stakes at 2, 3, and 4.

More than 13 months after his last victory, Michael Lund Petersen's Mor Spirit returned to the winner's circle with style March 18 in the $250,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park

Video: Essex H.

The grade 1 winning 4-year-old son of Eskendereya last won the 2016 Robert B. Lewis (G3) on his way to a start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), but gave another indication of his class in his start prior to the Essex, when he ran second to Bob Baffert stablemate Hoppertunity in the Feb. 4 San Antonio Stakes (G2).

Under the guidance of jockey Mike Smith Saturday, Mor Spirit thrived in his first start at Oaklawn. He dueled outside of Shotgun Kowboy for the early lead and grade 2 winner Madefromlucky  pressed the top two even more in the backstretch.

Madefromlucky continued his challenge in the stretch as Shotgun Kowboy faded, and got within a head of Mor Spirit with a furlong to run, but could not get past. Mor Spirit pulled away from the field late to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

"Heading for home, a horse came up to his outside. He dug in and I just stayed a little busy on him," Smith said. "Just because it's his first time here. You're so close to the crowd here, which is pretty cool, but sometimes it will get a horse looking around a little bit. So I just stayed more or less just after him to keep his attention, and he won very nice today."

Shotgun Kowboy set fractions of :23.48, :46.63, and 1:10.81 through six furlongs before Mor Spirit took over to finish off the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.62.

"We were hoping he'd jump well and sit off whoever, and if not, I'd be the aggressor and take the lead," Smith said. "I was thinking about it for a minute, but I was happy with where I was at and we just went from there. He ran really good—really well today."

With the victory, Mor Spirit now has a stakes win in each of his three years of racing. At 2 he won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and at 3 he scored in the Lewis.

Longshot Domain's Rap made a late closing bid to pick up second-place honors, followed by Madefromlucky, Dazzling Gem, Secret Passage, Shotgun Kowboy, and Dalmore to complete the order of finish.

Bred in Pennsylvania, out of the Dixie Union mare Im a Dixie Girl, Mor Spirit now has four wins and five seconds from 11 starts with earnings of $886,400.