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The Racing Dudes team reacts to and recaps Messier icing his rivals in Sunday’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park, then discuss who they like moving forward, including any potential longshots. This Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race is worth 10-4-2-1 points to the top 4 finishers (unless trained by Bob Baffert).
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The track press release:
In an absolutely sensational performance, Messier served notice to the racing world that he will be a major player in any Derby, anywhere in 2022. Racing with blinkers off today following a disappointing second place finish in his most recent start, the Ontario, Canadian-bred colt by Empire Maker demolished four rivals in taking Sunday’s Grade III, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita by a stakes record 15 lengths. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden for the first time by John Velazquez, Messier got a mile and one sixteenth in 1:42.89.
Breaking from the rail, Messier was able to out-foot second choice Sir London in the run to the Club House turn, and dictated terms throughout from there. A half length in front turning up the backside, Messier was pressured by both Sir London and Cabo Spirit as he raced on a long rein past the half mile pole.
Into the bridle around the far turn as Sir London fell back, Messier opened up three lengths on Cabo Spirit at the three sixteenths pole and from there, he was literally poetry in motion as a late afternoon sun highlighted his sleek bay coat in a breathtaking effort.
“The strategy worked,” said Velazquez. “I don’t think the blinkers would have hurt him or made a difference. It was just the way the race set up. I’m in post one and I don’t want to give the lead to them in front of me, then they slow down in front of my face and I can’t get out of there, so I asked Bob, ‘Bob, I’m going to come out running just to the first turn. I’m not going to chase them but I’m going to let him get his legs underneath of him.
“‘If they want to want to go faster, they can go faster and I don’t have to be on his mouth.’ He said, ‘No, do whatever you need to do.’ Then he asked me what the horse needed to do and I just (said), ‘I told him to GO!.’”
Second as the 1-2 favorite in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 11, Messier was off at 3-5 and paid $3.20, $2.40 and $2.10.
Owned by SF Racing, LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, LLC, et al, Messier, who won the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes at seven furlongs two starts back on Nov. 14, is now a two-time graded stakes winner and he’s 5-3-2-0 overall. With the winner’s share of $120,000, he increased his earnings to $285,600. Out of the Smart Strike mare Checkered Past, Messier sold for $470,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling in 2020.
For his part, Baffert seemed genuinely in awe of Messier’s effort, which provided the embattled Hall of Fame conditioner with his fourth consecutive win in the Lewis, including last year’s victory by eventual Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. Dating back to General Challenge in 1999, Baffert has won the Lewis a record 10 times.
“Jim (assistant, Barnes) had Johnny work him for me once and he gave me some good input on him,” said Baffert, whose 3-year-old filly Adare Manor took the Grade III Las Virgenes earlier in the day by 13 lengths. “He’s maturing, I could tell today that he’s growing, he’s getting bigger. You could tell when I put the saddle on him. He looked incredible, he looked the part. There were some good horses in there, they were legitimate horses.”
When asked whether or not Messier would stay at home and be pointed to the Santa Anita Derby on April 9, Baffert responded, “I don’t know yet. It depends on my other horses to see how (they are). We have always gone with whoever is doing well that week (and he) gets on a plane or stays here. So right now, we will just enjoy this and I’m just happy to have a horse like this in my barn.”
In a solid effort, Cabo Spirit, who had raced on grass in his last four starts and came off a win in the one mile Eddie Logan Stakes Jan. 2, finished second, seven lengths in front of Baffert’s Wharton. Trained by George Papaprodromou and ridden by Victor Espinoza, Cabo Spirit was off at 18-1 and paid $7.20 and $3.60.
Wharton, who sat a perfect trip, was no match for the top two with Juan Hernandez up. Off at 4-1, he paid $2.60 to show and finished 4 ½ lengths in front of Sir London, who bobbled at the break and came up empty.
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