Jerry and Ann Moss’ Royal Mo stamped himself a legitimate Kentucky Derby (GI) contender on Saturday with an impressive wire-to-wire score in the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita. The bay son of Uncle Mo did so in his graded stakes debut after breaking his maiden last out and beat a field of four other sophomores by 3 ½ lengths under regular jockey Victor Espinoza.
In the 1 1/16-mile main track test, the John Sherriffs-trained colt broke alertly from his innermost post position and was hustled to the front, leading at every call through splits of :23.86, :47.37 and 1:11.50 with rival Irap glued to his outside flank and the remainder of the field trailing by several lengths. The pair of frontrunners turned the final bend together and Royal Mo began to inch away, crossing the wire under a strong ride from Espinoza well in front. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile test on fast surface was 1:43.48.
Sheer Flattery, Term of Art and Dangerfield rounded out the order of finish.
“He’s such a big, heavy horse,” Espinoza said of the nearly 17-hand Lewis winner. “He doesn’t have that quickness for the first couple of strides. As soon as he gets into a rhythm, though, he’ll keep going.
“I wanted to be on the outside so I could track the leaders, but I didn’t want to take any chances so I went to the front. I knew there wasn’t going to be much speed. The fractions weren’t too quick so I took advantage.”
With the win, Royal Mo joins stable mate and Grade I winner Gormley as a legitimate candidate for the Run for the Roses. John Sherriffs trains them both.
“I was very happy with how he ran,” Sherriffs said of Royal Mo. “The pace, the fractions, having that horse [Irap] outside of him, hooking him a little bit so I think he showed a lot of character.”
Sherriffs also indicated he will likely separate his two Triple Crown-contending colts for their next starts, but where those races may be is still up in the air.
“Obviously you don’t want to run them together; we’ll just have to see how it goes. I haven’t spoken to Mr. Moss about it, so we’ll see.
Royal Mo, who is out of Saint Ballado mare Royal Irish, was bred in Kentucky by Brandywine farm and purchased for $300,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2015. He’s raced four times, earning two wins and two seconds, and with the $90,000 winner’s share of the Bob Lewis pot his bankroll now stands at $144,200.
“This has been an amazing experience,” winning owner Jerry Moss said. “We have’t had two horses in this position in a long time and it’s fun. We’re going to keep these two horses separated as long as we can. I’ll have to talk to John, but I think we’ll go to Arkansas with one and stay here with the other. (Royal Mo) is almost 17 hands, but he’s still got some growing to do. We really don’t see anyone else coming up that scares us. This horse has been working great and the Derby is a great thing to dream about.”
Royal Mo paid $5.00 to win, $3.40 to place and $2.20 to show. Irap was worth $4.20 and $2.60, while the race favorite, Sheer Flattery, returned $2.20.