ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 4, 2017)–Idle since breaking his maiden on Nov. 27, Royal Mo broke like a shot from the rail and dictated terms throughout as he scored an impressive 3 ½ length win in Saturday’s Grade III, 1 1/16 miles Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, thus stamping himself as a top tier Kentucky Derby candidate. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, the imposing bay colt by Uncle Mo got the distance in 1:43.48.
“I was very happy with how he ran, the pace, the fractions, having that horse (Irap, with Mario Gutierrez) outside of him, hooking him a little bit, so I think he showed a lot of character,” said Shirreffs, who also conditions recent Grade III Sham Stakes winner Gormley for the Mosses.
“You take it as it comes (referring to what might be next for his two talented sophomores). Obviously, you don’t really want to run them together. We’ll just have to see how it goes. I haven’t spoken with Mr. Moss about that, so we’ll see.”
A gate to wire maiden winner at one mile, Royal Mo faced stakes competition for the first time today and was off at 3-2 in a field of five, paying $5.00, $3.40 and $2.20. With the win, he also picked up 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and a check for $90,000, which brings his earnings to $144,200. Second in his first two races sprinting, Royal Mo now has two wins from four starts.
“He’s such a big horse, he doesn’t have that quickness for the first couple of strides,” said Espinoza. “As soon as he gets into rhythm though, he’ll keep going…He’s improving a lot. From the last few races to this race, he’s really coming along. He’s going in the right direction. Hopefully, we keep going that way.”
Moss, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who gained worldwide notoriety as the owner of the legendary Zenyatta, also teamed with Shirreffs to win the 2005 Kentucky Derby with longshot Giacomo.
“We haven’t had two horses (Royal Mo and Gormley) in this position in a long time and it’s fun,” said Moss. “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 coming up that scares us…This horse has been working great and the Derby is a great thing to dream about.”
One of three Doug O’Neill trainees, Irap pressed the winner throughout and held off favored Sheer Flattery by a neck for second money. Off at 4-1, Irap paid $4.20 and $2.60.
“I think pace makes the race and the first half wasn’t overly quick,” said O’Neill. “When you give a horse like Royal Mo an uncontested lead you’re going to be in trouble.”
Third turning for home, Sheer Flattery, who was ridden by Mike Smith, never threatened the winner while finishing 2 ¼ lengths in front of Term of Art. Off at 7-5, Sheer Flattery paid $2.20 to show.
Fractions, all set by the winner, were 23.86, 47.37, 1:11.50 and 1:36.84.
The second, third and fourth place finishers received four, two and one Kentucky Derby qualifying points.