Mor Spirit shook off the strong challenge of Madefromlucky to take Saturday's $250,000 Essex H. at Oaklawn Park by about 2 1/2-lengths to give Bob Baffert his first-ever win in the 1 1/16-mile race.
Mor Spirit got into a three-way tussle for the lead right out of the gate, with Shotgun Kowboy to his inside and Madefromlucky on his outside. The trio remained side-by-side for the first quarter-mile when Madefromlucky began to take back off the quick pace.
Mor Spirit began to edge away from Shotgun Kowboy on the turn, while Madefromlucky began to re-appear on the scene. In the stretch, Mor Spirit kicked into another gear to pull away in the final furlong, with Domain's Rap nosing out Madefromlucky for the place spot.
“I was really happy where I was at,” winning jockey Mike Smith said of dueling for the lead early. “He put me right into the race. I actually was going to try and be a little more aggressive and take the lead. But he was in such a good rhythm where he was, I was happy with that. Heading for home, a horse came up to his outside, he dug in and I just stayed a little busy on him. 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.”
Owned by Michael Peterson, Mor Spirit is now 4-5-0 in 11 starts and has earned $886,400. The 4-year-old son of Eskendereya won the CashCall Futurity (G1) at 2 and the Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) as a 3-year-old.