Edited Santa Anita Release — Second at 1-2 in his most recent stakes assignment, Messier will be out to make amends and stamp himself an “A-List” Derby hopeful as he heads a field of five sophomores going 1 1/16 miles in Sunday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.
An important prep on the road to both the Santa Anita and Kentucky Derbies, the Lewis will provide the winner with 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and the second, third and fourth place finishers with four, two and one point respectively. However, the Bob Baffert-trained colt is not eligible for those points due to Churchill Downs’ ban of the Hall of Fame trainer.
A chestnut colt by Empire Maker, Messier, an impressive six furlong maiden winner here three starts back on Oct. 22, then galloped to a 3 ½ length score going seven furlongs in the G3 Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar on Nov. 14. Subsequently dispatched at 1-2 in the G2 Los Alamitos Futurity at a mile and one sixteenth, he appeared to have the race won three sixteenths of a mile out, but the Doug O’Neill-trained Slow Down Andy, although racing erratically, came back on to Messier’s outside to register a one length win.
Although beaten in his first two turn assignment, Messier, who has been favored in all four of his starts, appeared undaunted, as he galloped out strongly and in front around the Clubhouse turn at Los Alamitos. Trained by Baffert and owned by SF Racing, LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, et al, Messier is well seasoned, with two wins and as many seconds from four starts. Ridden by Flavien Prat in his last three starts, he’ll be handled for the first time by John Velazquez in the Lewis.
Messier’s primary rival certainly appears to be the Simon Callaghan-trained Sir London, who crushed four rivals in breaking his maiden by 10 lengths as the 1-5 favorite on Dec. 4 at Los Alamitos. Second in a pair of maiden sprints on Oct. 3 at Santa Anita and Nov. 13 at Del Mar, Sir London led every step of the way in breaking his maiden at a flat mile Dec. 4 and seems very well spotted in Saturday’s Lewis as he retains the services of Flavien Prat.
A $700,000 2-year-old in training sale purchase in May of last year, Sir London is by Malibu Moon and is owned by AMO Racing USA and Qatar Racing Limited. Heavily favored in his last two starts, he also brings a last-out Beyer Speed Figure of 80 to the Lewis, which compares favorably with Messier’s 83 Beyer, which he earned in finishing second in the Los Al Futurity.
Campaigned on grass in his last four starts, Kretz Racing’s Cabo Spirit rallied for an impressive a 1 ¼ length win in the one mile turf Eddie Logan Stakes here on Jan. 2, an effort that was flattered by runner-up Maglev’s victory on turf here Sunday in the ungraded Baffle Stakes. Trained by George Papaprodromou, Cabo Spirit is by Pioneerof the Nile and fetched $575,000 at an Ocala, Fla. 2-year-old in training sale last April. Winless in his first three starts on dirt, Cabo Spirit has won two out of his last four starts on turf and his connections are hoping that with seasoning, he can transfer that solid recent form to the main track on Sunday with regular rider Victor Espinoza back aboard.
Dismissed in his six furlong debut at 24-1 here on Jan. 22, Doug O’Neill’s Happy Jack won like a horse that should relish a route of ground. Shuffled back around the turn, he split horses three sixteenths out and went to easily defeat Baffert’s favored Bletchley Park and galloped out impressively as well. Owned and bred by Calumet Farm, Happy Jack is by Oxbow and will be ridden back by Abel Cedillo.
THE GRADE 3 ROBERT B. LEWIS WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 8 of 9 Approximate post time 4 p.m. PT
- Messier—John Velazquez—120
- Sir London—Flavien Prat—120
- Cabo Spirit—Victor Espinoza—124
- Wharton—Juan Hernandez—120
- Happy Jack—Abel Cedillo–120
First post time for a nine-race program, which will also include the Grade III, $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes, is at 12:30 p.m. with admission gates opening at 10:30 a.m.