Mor Spirit and jockey Gary Stevens win the Grade II $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes Saturday, February 6, 2016 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. (Benoit Photo via AP) NO SALES
AP Photo
February 06, 2016

ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert isn't resting on his Triple Crown laurels. With American Pharoah retired to a breeding career, the trainer is eager to find his next great horse.

Mor Spirit is coming along at just the right time.

The dark bay horse won the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths Saturday at Santa Anita, reinforcing his status as the top 3-year-old in Baffert's barn.

''After Pharoah went, you sort of need something like this,'' Baffert said in the sun-splashed winner's circle. ''It's been like that with every good horse I've retired, you're wanting some more.''

Ridden by Gary Stevens, Mor Spirit ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.21 and paid $3.40, $2.40 and $2.10 as the 3-5 favorite in the field of six.

Uncle Lino returned $5.20 and $2.80, while I Will Score was another half-length back in third and paid $2.60 to show.

It was Baffert's sixth career victory in the Grade 3 race named for his late client Lewis. Baffert won last year with Dortmund, although it was American Pharoah who went on to become the sport's first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

In Stevens, Baffert has a fellow Hall of Famer with valuable Kentucky Derby experience. They teamed to win the 1997 edition with Silver Charm, owned by Lewis and his wife, Beverly.

''I don't feel like I have that added pressure, especially after what I went through,'' Baffert said. ''We're just two old-timers enjoying it together.''

Stevens had Mor Spirit in third much of the way behind pacesetter I Will Score and Uncle Lino. Stevens went to a left-handed whip and took the lead in deep stretch before inching away on a 75-degree day.

''I had a big smile on my face going down the backside and I'm sure Bob did too,'' Stevens said. ''He's pretty special. As he faces better horses, he'll only get better.''

Dressed in Hermes was fourth, followed by the Baffert-trained Let's Meet in Rio, and Path of David. Laoban was scratched.

Bred in Pennsylvania, Mor Spirit is a son of Eskendereya, who was the early favorite for the 2010 Kentucky Derby before a leg injury kept him out of the race. The son is known as a ridgling because he has an undescended testicle.

''He reminds me a lot of his sire,'' Baffert said. ''He's a big, strong horse.''

The victory, worth $90,000, increased Mor Spirit's career earnings to $378,400, with three wins in five starts for owner Michael Lund Petersen.

Mor Spirit earned 10 points to move into second in the standings that determine the 20-horse starting field for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. The horse has 24 points and trails undefeated leader Nyquist, who has 30 points and is set to make his 3-year-old debut at Santa Anita on Feb. 15.

After Mor Spirit's victory, all eyes were on Songbird, last year's 2-year-old champion filly.

She didn't disappoint, winning the $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes by 6 1/2 lengths to improve to 5-0 in her career.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Songbird ran one mile in 1:36.84 and paid $2.10, $2.10 and $2.10 as the 1-9 favorite.

Songbird led all the way, and at the top of the stretch, she was ahead by 10 lengths. Smith was crouched perfectly still in the saddle through the stretch, never needing his whip.

''You always worry about horses that are brilliant at 2,'' he said. ''Sometimes they won't mature or grow anymore at 3. She seemed to up her game even more, especially mentally. She was very happy today and took it all in stride.''

Songbird's owner, Rick Porter of Lexington, Kentucky, isn't planning to run his filly against the boys in the Derby.

''It would be nice to win the Kentucky Derby, but I'd like to do it with a nice colt,'' he said. ''I don't like the point system. We'd have to run in the Santa Anita Derby with her. It'd be great for your ego, but the smart move is to stay on the path we're on to the (Kentucky) Oaks.''

Land Over Sea returned $5.60 and $4, while She's a Warrior paid $4.60 to show.

Baffert was back in the winner's circle after 9-5 favorite Hoppertunity won the $500,000 San Antonio Stakes by a nose. The 5-year-old ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.47 under Flavien Prat and paid $5.80 to win. Imperative was second and Donworth third.

In the $200,000 San Marcos Stakes, Flamboyant won by three-quarters of a length under Brice Blanc. The 5-year-old gelding bred in France ran 1 1/4 miles on turf in 2:02.58 and paid $7.60 to win. Gaga A was second and Quick Casablanca third.

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