While Bob Baffert may be barred from the Kentucky Derbythe embattled trainer continues to rack up the prep wins.
Baffert collected his fifth victory on this year’s road to the Kentucky Derby when Messier powered to a 15-length victory in the Grade 3, $250,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Sunday.
“We always thought he was this kind of horse,” Baffert said.
The win by Messier on a sunny 77-degree day in Southern California follows previous prep wins for Baffert in the American Pharoah (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Corniche and the Sham (G3) and Southwest (G3) with Newgrange.
Despite the wins, none of those colts has collected a single qualifying point towards this year’s Kentucky Derby. Horses trained by Baffert are ineligible from accruing Derby points during his two-year ban put in place by host track Churchill Downs.
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Messier entered the 1 1/16-miles Lewis after being beaten at odds-on in last month’s Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) when re-adding blinkers. With the hood removed again Saturday, Messier and new rider John Velázquez broke sharply from the inside stall and seized the lead into the first turn facing pressure on the outside from both Cabo Spirit and Sir London.
“I didn’t want to get trapped (on the rail) if they came over, so I said I’m going to come out running,” Velázquez said. “But I wasn’t going to send him, necessarily. Just let him get his legs underneath him. And if they did want the lead, they were going to have to go faster than they wanted.”
Messier set contested fractions of 23.24 and 46.94 seconds for the opening half-mile. On the second turn, the son of Empire Maker began to edge away from his pace rivals while completing six furlongs in 1:11.32. From there, it was just a matter of the winning margin and final time.
Messier would extend his lead throughout the stretch and crossed the wire the easiest of winners in a sharp 1:42.84. He paid $3.20 to win.
Checking in a distant second was Cabo Spirit (18-1), a stakes winner on turf and the longest shot on the board. He earned four points towards the Kentucky Derby for trainer George Papaprodromou. Baffert’s Wharton was third followed by Sir London, who collected one point. Happy Jack for Doug O’Neill was last in the field of five.
Prior to the Los Alamitos Futurity, Messier rolled to a maiden win sprinting at Santa Anita in October and returned to win the seven-furlong Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar over Forbidden Kingdom, who came back to win last week’s San Vicente (G2 ) at Santa Anita.
Messier improved his record to 5: 3-0-2 with earnings of $285,600. He was a $470,000 auction purchase for an extensive ownership group that includes SF Racing, Madaket Stables and Starlight Racing among others.
“He’s maturing,” Baffert said of Messier. “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, legitimate horses.”
Baffert indicated Messier would possibly skip next month’s round of Kentucky Derby preps, which includes the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita. Instead, he could wait for the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 9 or possibly ship out of town.
“I don’t know yet, It depends on my other horses to see how (they are doing),” Baffert said. “We have always gone with whoever is doing well that week gets on a plane or stays here.
“So right now, we will just enjoy this. I’m just happy to have a horse like this in my barn.”