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First Mission won the 2023 Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland, the final prep race for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1), after outdueling a game Arabian Lion in deep stretch. Is this Brad Cox’s best 3-year-old? Is he a legitimate threat to perhaps win the Preakness Stakes (G1) or the Belmont Stakes (G1)? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
In the Stonestreet Lexington, First Mission squeezed through a narrow opening along the rail at the eighth pole and then eased past pacesetting Arabian Lion at the sixteenth pole to win by a half-length.
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Luis Saez, First Mission covered the 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:43.74. It is the third victory in the race for Cox, who won last year with Tawny Port and in 2019 with Owendale.
The top five finishers picked up points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) Presented by Woodford Reserve. The Kentucky Derby is limited to the top 20 point earners and invitees that pass the entry box; only Disarm, who picked up 6 points for finishing third, earned enough points to crack that threshold.
Breaking from the outside post 10, Arabian Lion cleared the field before the first turn and posted fractions of :24.12 and :48.01 with Prairie Hawk chasing in second and First Mission racing third while in the clear.
On the far turn, First Mission began to close in and at the top of the stretch moved toward the rail as Arabian Lion swung wide. First Mission reached even terms at the eighth pole and then pulled away in the final yards.
First Mission is a Kentucky-bred son of Street Sense out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Elude. The victory was worth $232,500 and increased First Mission’s earnings to $276,500 with a record of 3-2-1-0.
Sent off as the favorite, First Mission returned $6.38, $4 and $3.16. Arabian Lion, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., returned $5.14 and $3.52 with Disarm finishing 4¼ lengths back in third under Jose Ortiz and paying $2.96 to show.
It was another three-quarters of a length back to Denington, who was followed in order by Demolition Duke, Prairie Hawk, Empirestrikesfast, Baseline Beater, Reinvest and Curly Larry and Mo.
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On making the jump from a maiden special weight win in his second career start at Fair Grounds to a graded stakes in his third start
“(Trainer) Brad (Cox) just got this guy in after Christmas time and had never seen him before, so he wasn’t sure where we were going to stable him for the winter time. He saw him work one time up at Churchill and he said, ‘This horse is going down to Fair Grounds,’ where he put all his good horses.
“We’ve always held (First Mission) in high regard. He had a few juvenile issues last year, but we were very high on him. He ran a tremendous race first time out (when second Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds), when Brad’s other horse (Bishops Bay) beat him going 6 furlongs, knowing he wanted to stretch out. He won very easily last time (on March 18)
“This was a tough Lexington Stakes. Some nice horses in there. So we were very hopeful and confident that if he showed the talent that we thought he had, we had a big, big chance. It’s exceptionally nice to see that happen, and especially the experience he needed to get, coming down (the stretch) in tight on the rail. For an inexperienced horse, I think that will hold well for the future with us.”
On running him in five weeks in the Preakness (G1)
“I think it will be ideal, really. When he ran in his maiden race, we thought, ‘OK, let’s come back a little quicker in the maiden, a little bit quicker back in here’ from what Brad would normally do, to see if he had enough talent to do that. I think he answered a lot of questions today, so we’d certainly look hard at that. I think we have a nice horse for down the road even if he doesn’t make one of the classics.”
“At the three-eighths (pole), when the other horse (Prairie Hawk) tried to get in front of him, he got a little intimidated, so I just went to the rail because the rail was open. Then he started picking them up and he was trying, and finally we did it.”
“Beautiful, beautiful. He wants to be on the lead – we made the lead, good pace, but we just got beat.”
“It looks like he got enough points to go, so we have the option to go. We’ll see how he comes out of this race. We’ve always thought a mile and a quarter (of the Derby) would be fine for him.”
“I was squeezed a little leaving the gate. Ended up a little farther back than I wanted to. After that, it was a pretty good trip. I was just third best. The pace wasn’t there. It was :48.”
“We had a good trip. The only thing we could’ve changed was the break – we got squeezed a little bit. We ended up getting shuffled back a little bit farther than we needed to be. Other than that, we had a good inside trip. We were fortunate enough to get up for fourth. I just think with a little better earlier position, we could’ve been a little closer and been a different outcome. I don’t know if we would’ve won it, but we’d definitely been third.”
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