All You Want in a Kentucky Derby Horse and Mor

Mor Spirit rallies late to win the 2016 Robert B. Lewis

Mor Spirit rallies late to win the 2016 Robert B. Lewis

If one could create a “perfect storm” of a Kentucky Derby horse, there are five or six main components needed to come together at the same time to make a big score.

My contention is that, this year, Bob Baffert’s Mor Spirit is that horse.

First of all, the horse has to be ability to “get” the Derby distance of ten furlongs.

Mor Spirit has shown he can handle nine furlongs, finishing strong in this month’s Santa Anita Derby, coming in second in the slop to Exaggerator, who made a very bold move at the top of the second turn to blow by all of the competition.

His sire, Eskendereya, was a Kentucky Derby favorite-to-be after dominating the Wood Memorial in 2010, only to have his racing career ended by injury while training for the Derby.

Eskendereya’s son will get the chance his father never did — an opportunity to run for the roses.

Mor Spirit’s sire had an average winning distance of 7.3 furlongs. Over the last fourteen editions of the Kentucky Derby, the average sire’s AWD (average winning distance) is 6.93 furlongs.

Year Derby Winner

Sire AWD

Damsire AWD

2015 American Pharoah



2014 California Chrome



2013 Orb



2012 I’ll Have Another



2011 Animal Kingdom



2010 Super Saver



2009 Mine That Bird



2008 Big Brown



2007 Street Sense



2006 Barbaro



2005 Giacamo



2004 Smarty Jones



2003 Funny Cide



2002 War Emblem









Although Mor Spirit’s dam, Im a Dixie Girl, was a bona fide sprinter, his dam sire, Dixie Union, sported an AWD of 6.9 furlongs, slightly below that of an average Derby winner over that same span.

For good measure, Eskendereya’s father was Giant’s Causeway, a sire whose progeny sport an AWD of 9.3 furlongs, so the question of whether Mor Spirit can go 10 furlongs is pretty well answered.

Secondly, you don’t want your Derby horse to be blocked by a wall of horses. One would prefer a stalker, a horse that sits slightly off the pace, but not too far off the pace.

Mor Spirit consistently stalks. If you watch all of his seven race replays, you’ll note he doesn’t have great early gate speed, but always seems to find himself three to four lengths off the pace at first call — the signature of a stalker.

Come the first Saturday in May, Mor Spirit should be forwardly placed, behind the pacesetters Danzing Candy, Outwork, and possibly Nyquist.

Joining Mor Spirit in the second tier should be Destin, and Mohaymen.

The other fourteen horses will comprise the “wall” of horses, all vying to save ground and looking for the hole to escape said wall.

The third component of a perfect Derby horse would be having a big-time jockey at the helm.

Gary Stevens has been a Hall of Fame jockey for longer than most jockeys have been jockeys. He’s won the Kentucky Derby three times: aboard Winning Colors in 1988 and, then, Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Silver Charm two years later.

Having won over 5,000 career races, winning every leg of the Triple Crown at least twice, and double-digit Breeders’ Cup wins, Stevens fits the bill of big-time in a big way. He was named to the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1997.

Stevens has been aboard Mor Spirit in all of the horse’s wins and in all but one (the Kentucky Jockey’s Club Stakes at Churchill Downs) of his starts.

Speaking of Churchill Downs, another component in creating a perfect Derby horse is having one that is familiar with the track that hosts the Kentucky Derby.

Although Mor Spirit finished second to Airoforce at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old in November of last year, jockey Martin Garcia had the colt pressing the pace, something he hasn’t done before or since.

So the horse can get the distance, shouldn’t be encumbered by a wall of horses, has a big-time jockey, and is familiar with the track.

Sounds like he should be the favorite, right?

Luckily, there are others running in this year’s Derby that will be shorter odds, and that’s the final component one would be looking for — juicy odds.

Nyquist is undefeated and is a very deserving Derby favorite.

Mor Spirit should be at double-digit odds on the morning line — I’m thinking 12-1 or 15-1. By race time, he should be right around 10-1, so he represents value with a capital “V.”

One has to remember that in horse race betting, it’s the other bettors that you’re betting against — the track holds the money, keeps some (more than they should) for themselves, then pays the winners with the losers’ money.

I see Mor Spirit stalking the pace, staying fresh, then having Stevens let him go at the top of the long stretch. I think both Nyquist and Gun Runner should be right up with the horse towards the wire, with Mor Spirit getting the blanket of roses.

If you play Mor Spirit, not only do you get all of the aforementioned plusses, as an added bonus, you get a horse trained by the same conditioner who won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah last year — Baffert. What’s more, Mor Spirit’s sire Eskendereya was owned by none other than American Pharoah’s owners — the Zayats.

Mor Spirit is everything you want in a Kentucky Derby horse… and Mor!

Ryan Dickey
Ryan Dickey is a full-time firefighter in Dearborn, MI, and a life-long horse racing fan. He is a handicapper and contributor to prominent horse racing Websites as well as a freelance sportswriter/photojournalist. He covers local high school sports and community events for multiple outlets, including bi-weekly newspapers and has over 200 works published to date.

Once again the owner of a race horse, Ryan is president (and currently sole member!) of Firehouse Racing Stables, LLC. This year @FirehouseRacing plans to send its first thoroughbred, That Is So Right (a 4 year old chestnut gelding), to run at tracks in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and, possibly, Indiana.

Having lived in Las Vegas for six years and working in the sports gaming industry, Ryan knows sports handicapping from “both sides of the counter.” Feel free to contact him on Twitter (@rdickey249) for questions, comments, criticisms, or critiques.

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