A smashing maiden winner at Fair Grounds in mid-March, First Mission stepped up to capture his stakes debut in Saturday’s $398,750 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland, taking the inside route to run down pacesetter Arabian Lion and score by a half-length. Brad Cox trains the Godolphin homebred son of Street Sense, and Luis Saez was up on the 2.19-1 favorite.
First Mission picked up 20 points winning the final qualifier in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, but he won’t have the points to earn a berth at Churchill Downs. The second leg of the Triple Crown, the May 20 Preakness (G1) at Pimlico, appears to be the target for the flashy dark bay.
“I think it will be ideal, really,” said Michael Banahan, Director of Bloodstock for Godolphin. “When he ran in his maiden race, we thought, ‘OK, let’s come back a little quicker in the maiden, a little bit quicker back in here’ from what Brad would normally do, to see if he had enough talent to do that. I think he answered a lot of questions today, so we’d certainly look hard at that. I think we have a nice horse for down the road even if he doesn’t make one of the classics.”
Arabian Lion sprinted forward at the break, establishing comfortable splits in :24.12, :48.01, and 1:12.48 on a clear lead, but the speedy Bob Baffert trainee cornered wide off the far turn, opening plenty of ground for First Mission, who stalked a couple of lengths back before advancing closer on the far turn.
First Mission made a serious bid for the lead after straightening for home, and overcame tight quarters late as Arabian Lion angled in toward the rail in deep stretch, sustaining his momentum to win going away under the wire. He completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.74.
Arabian Lion, who was making his first appearance since finishing last of four runners in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita in early February, was off as the 3.89-1 third choice with Irad Ortiz Jr. and held second by 4 1/4 lengths.
Disarm, who entered the Lexington ranked 26th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, needed a top three finish to qualify, and he rallied to stamp his ticket as the 3.46-1 second choice, edging 22-1 outsider Denington by a half-length for third. The six points moved Disarm to 18th, knocking Jace’s Road one spot outside the top 20.
“It looks like (Disarm) got enough points to go, so we have the option to go,” owner Ron Winchell said. “We’ll see how he comes out of this race. We’ve always thought a mile and a quarter (of the Kentucky Derby) would be fine for him.”
Demolition Duke finished fifth and was followed by Prairie Hawk, Empirestrikesfast, Baseline Beater, Reinvest, and Curly Larry and Mo.
The first foal to race from the Medaglia d’Oro mare Elude, Kentucky-bred First Mission is from the immediate female family of Argentinean champion three-year-old filly Forty Marchanta.
First Mission made his career debut in a six-furlong maiden at Fair Grounds in mid-February, finishing a close second to next-out allowance scorer Bishops Bay, and the exciting sophomore stretched to two turns four weeks later and crushed maiden foes by a 6 3/4-length margin. It’s easy to project bigger-and-better things following his Lexington victory.