March 22, 2023

Mor Spirit slight early choice in contentious Dirt Mile

Mor Spirit winning the prestigious Met Mile in hand (Melanie Martines)

Last seen romping in the Met Mile (G1), Mor Spirit will return from a 146-day layoff in Friday’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). The 4-year-old has been tabbed as the 3-1 morning line favorite and is one of two top contenders in the 10-horse field for Bob Baffert.

Sidelined after an unplaced showing in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, Mor Spirit dropped his first two starts back this winter but began to turn things around when rolling to easy wins in the Essex at Oaklawn and Steve Sexton Mile (G3) at Lone Star. He stepped up his game with a sensational front-running performance in the Met Mile at Belmont, registering a 114 BRIS Speed rating for the 6 ¼-length decision, and will bring a three-for-three mark at the distance into the Dirt Mile. Mike Smith retains the mount.

Cupid provides a formidable one-two punch for Baffert. A superb winner of the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) in his 2017 bow, the 4-year-old son of Tapit was being considered for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) before finishing fourth as the favorite in the September 30 Awesome Again (G1). The five-time stakes scorer is an intriguing 8-1 on the morning line with regular rider Rafael Bejarano.

Sharp Azteca will enter the Dirt Mile off a four-length tally in the Kelso (G2) at Belmont Park and has garnered 109 and 106 BRIS Speed ratings posting commanding victories in his last two starts for Jorge Navarro. The confirmed front-runner is listed as the 9-2 third choice with Paco Lopez.

Accelerate figures to relish the cutback after finding the 1 ¼-mile distance too taxing in a third-place Pacific Classic (G1) effort. The 4-year-old has shown an affinity for the seaside oval at Del Mar, winning his first three attempts including the July 22 San Diego (G2) over Arrogate, and the John Sadler trainee is could receive a good trip Friday just off the early speed with Victor Espinoza. Accelerate is listed as the 7-2 second favorite.

Practical Joke will enter on the upswing for Chad Brown, rallying to win the Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) going away last time, and the 3-year-old colt is eligible to bring a strong close punch with Joel Rosario. Awesome Slew will also be running late for Mark Casse. Runner-up to reigning sprint champion Drefong in the Forego (G1) two back, the 4-year-old colt exits a nice score in the September 30 Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill and was flattered when runner-up The Player came back to easily win last Saturday’s Fayette (G2) at Keeneland. John Velazquez guides.

Iron Fist invades from the Midwest for Steve Asmussen after capturing the Governor’s Cup at Remington Park. Pat O’Brien (G2) victor Giant Expectations will stretch back out to two turns for Peter Eurton. Rounding out the field are Grade 3 winner Battle of Midway and multiple stakes-placed outsider Gato Del Oro.