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Smith relishes ride on swift Mor Spirit

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Photographs by Mitchell PE Masilun

Mor Spirit, ridden by Mike Smith, wins the $250,000 Essex Handicap on Saturday by 2½ lengths at Oaklawn. Smith and Mo Spirit gave trainer Bob Baffert his 22nd stakes victories in 49 starts at Oaklawn Park.

HOT SPRINGS -- Jockey Mike Smith said Mor Spirit was "really ready" for Saturday's Essex Handicap, an understatement considering the heavily-favored 4-year-old turned in the fastest time for the 1 1/16th mile race in 30 years.

Mor Spirit pulled away for 2½-length victory over runner-up Domain's Rap, winning in 1:41.62. Sun Master ran the Essex in 1:41 in 1987.

"Brilliant trip and he was leading up to an effort like this, to be honest with you," said Smith, who ranks 22nd all time among jockeys with 5,386 victories and fourth all time with more than $294 million in purse earnings. "I actually had to go after someone probably a little too early. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have waited longer with him. Not sure the outcome would have been different. And today, he was ready. Really ready."

Never more than a length behind early leader Shotgun Kowboy, Mor Spirit took the lead at the head of the stretch and drove clear for his fourth career victory in 11 starts. It was his first trip over the Oaklawn Park surface.

"Heading for home, (Madefromlucky) came up to his outside, he dug in and I just stayed a little busy on him," Smith said. "Just because it's his first time here. You're so close to the crowd here, which is pretty cool but sometimes it will get a horse looking around a little bit. So I just stayed more or less just after him to keep his attention. He won very nice today."

Mor Spirit went off at 1-2 and paid $3, 2.80 and 2.40. Domain's Rap paid 6.40 and 3.20. Madefromlucky finished a nose behind Domain's Rap for the show, paying $3.

Domain's Rap, a 9-year-old gelding who was coming off a third-place finish in the Razorback Handicap on Feb. 20, has eight in-the-money finishes in nine Oaklawn Park starts and has earned $381,700 in Hot Springs. He has made $730,850 in his 63-race career.

"He ran great, ain't no doubt about it," trainer Federico Villafranco said of Domain's Rap. "We think the world of him. He's a good horse."

"I just wanted to let him run his race from off the speed a little bit," Domain's Rap jockey Ramon Vazquez said. "I waited for my move, and he ran well. My thought was just to sit off the speed and have one move and see what happened. He ran a good race."

Trained by Bob Baffert, Mor Spirit earned $150,000 for owner Michael Lund Pearson.

Sports on 03/19/2017

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