USA TODAY Sports Weekly

BAF­FERT BACK ON THE TRAIL

Mor Spirit is his lat­est con­tender

- Bob Velin @BobVelin USA TO­DAY Sports

It seems like only yes­ter­day that Amer­i­can Pharoah crossed the fin­ish line be­fore a roar­ing crowd at the Bel­mont Stakes to be­come rac­ing’s first Triple Crown cham­pion in 37 years.

But the road to the 2016 Ken­tucky Derby is bumper-to­bumper with races, as 3-year-old Thor­ough­breds vie for one of the cov­eted 20 spots in the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 7.

Bob Baf­fert, the trainer of Amer­i­can Pharoah, brings his top Triple Crown can­di­date, Mor Spirit, to Satur­day’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Race Course in Ar­ca­dia, Calif.

“This is when you start head­ing to the deeper part of the pool,” said Baf­fert, who will try for his sixth vic­tory in the Lewis Stakes, which was named for his client, who died in 2006 at age 81.

“I think with ev­ery start, we’re learn­ing more about Mor Spirit and fig­ur­ing out what he wants to do. He has a lot of tac­ti­cal speed, but you can’t let him use it too early.”

Gary Stevens has been aboard Mor Spirit in three of his four starts.

“He’s got a huge stride and beau­ti­ful ac­tion,” Stevens said of Mor Spirit, a son of Esk­endereya and owned by Michael Lund Petersen.

Baf­fert has won the Lewis Stakes with Gen­eral Chal­lenge (1999), Do­mes­tic Dis­pute (2003), Pioneerof the Nile (2009), Flash­back (2013) and Dort­mund (2015).

Prob­a­ble starters for the Lewis: Col­lected, rid­den by Martin Gar­cia; Dressed in Her­mes (Mike Smith); El Charro (no rider); Found Money (Mario Gu­tier­rez); I’mal­readythere (Rafael Be­jarano); Laoban (Tyler Baze); Let’s Meet in Rio (Kent De­sormeaux); Mineyerown­malone (no rider); Mor Spirit (Stevens); Path of David (no rider); Rare Candy (Joe Talamo); Sor­ryabout­noth­ing (Flavien Prat) and Un­cle Lino (Fer­nando Perez).

Un­cle Lino re­cently worked 5 fur­longs with Perez up in 59.60 sec­onds in prepa­ra­tion for the Lewis Stakes.

“We’re try­ing to take the next step with him around two turns,” trainer Gary Sher­lock said.

The Lewis, at 11⁄ miles, would be Un­cle Lino’s first race longer than 6½ fur­longs.

 ?? BENOIT PHOTO VIA AP ?? Mor Spirit won the Grade I Los Alami­tos Fu­tu­rity in De­cem­ber.
BENOIT PHOTO VIA AP Mor Spirit won the Grade I Los Alami­tos Fu­tu­rity in De­cem­ber.

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