Mor Spirit runs away from the competition in the Metropolitan Handicap

Mor Spirit runs away from the competition in the Metropolitan Handicap

Anne M. Eberhardt

Mor Spirit Reigns for Baffert, Smith in Met Mile

Son of Eskendereya continued an outstanding day for his connections.

One didn't need to look at a tote board or study any past performances lines to figure what the outcome of  the $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (G1) would be.

Based solely off what had already played out on the Belmont Park oval leading into the eight-furlong test, the combined presence from a pair of Hall of Famers figured yet again to be an unbeatable force.

On the day the final leg of the Triple Crown was to be contested, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith flew in and completely owned the blockbuster slate of stakes June 10. When the hard-knocking Mor Spirit took it to Sharp Azteca early and then put that one in his place en route to a 6 1/4-length win in the Met Mile, it marked the fourth victory on the day for Baffert and fifth triumph for Smith—all in stakes.

Baffert-Smith domination is hardly a new concept, but the volume and quality of the triumphs pouring in Saturday was something exceptional even for the best of the best. Prior to Mor Spirit's third consecutive victory and first grade 1 win since he took the 2015 Los Alamitos Futurity, Baffert and Smith paired up to take the Easy Goer Stakes with West Coast, the Acorn Stakes (G1) with Abel Tasman, and the Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) with American Anthem. Smith also piloted champion Songbird to an easier-than-it-looked score in the Odgen Phipps Stakes (G1) for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

"It's a pretty incredible day for us. To be able to pull this off ... I wish I had another horse in," Baffert said. "I'm so proud of these horses. On a big day like this—for them to run like this—it's pretty incredible.

"I'll never top that day (when American Pharoah  won the Triple Crown), but this day is pretty huge. It's pretty big for us, (but) mainly for those horses. Mike Smith was huge and this is Mike Smith's home. I just have a great team."

The betting public heeded what was taking place Saturday and sent Mor Spirit off at 5-2 favoritism in the 12-horse field. The 4-year-old Eskendereya ridgling held up his end of the bargain and flaunted arguably the best form of his career when he raced off Sharp Azteca's throat through fractions of :23.20 and :46.05.

Michael Lund Petersen's dark bay runner rolled up to stick a head in front coming off the final turn and the result was a foregone conclusion from there. With Smith applying some left-handed encouragement, Mor Spirit kept piling on the daylight between himself and his rivals and hit the wire in 1:33.71 over a track rated fast.

"I was so happy we were coming here. I said this horse is really getting good right now," Smith said. "I'm not riding a lot right other than today, but we're riding some super horses and with these kind of horses, you use your head a little bit, and you point them in the right direction and they get it done."

Sharp Azteca finished second, with Tommy Macho third, and Awesome Slew and Economic Model rounding out the top five. Mor Spirit paid $7.10, $4.10, and $3.30 across the board.

The prestige of the Met Mile adds an substantial amount of gleam to an already solid résumé Mor Spirit has amassed. Aside from a 10th-place run in last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and a fourth-place finish in the Malibu Stakes (G1) in December, Mor Spirit has not finished worse than second in his 11 other outings. He snapped a three-race losing skid when he took the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park March 18 and was coming into the Met Mile off a 5 3/4-length victory in the May 7 Steve Sexton Mile Stakes (G3) at Lone Star Park.

Bred in Pennsylvania by Elkstone Group, Mor Spirit has won six of his 13 starts and has earnings of more than $1.65 million. He was purchased for $650,000 by Petersen and Bernard Schiappa out of the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Florida Select 2-year-olds in training sale, and is out of the Dixie Union mare Im a Dixie Girl.