For Canadian racing fans, it was exciting to watch the handsome bay colt MESSIER, named for a Canadian hockey icon, gallop to a 15-length win in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on February 6. Messier, by Empire Maker from the Canadian/Ontario mare Checkered Past, by Smart Strike (also Canadian-bred), bred by Sam-Son Farms and foaled in Milton, ON won his third stakes in his fifth career race. He beat just four overmatched rivals but looked good winning the 1 1/16 mile race.
But now what?
Messier’s ownership group, SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, Golconda Stable, and Siena Farm must be wondering what to do next.
Messier’s trainer, Bob Baffert, is currently barred from Churchill Downs and thus his horses do not earn points in Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks stepping stone races. Messier would have collected 10 points in the Lewis Stakes and his trainee ADARE MANOR, a big filly out of Ontario bred mare Brooklyn’sway in fact, would have also received 10 points for her Las Virgenes Stakes (G3) romp. Instead, they have zero.
Baffert received a two-year ban from Churchill Downs following the positive test from 2021 Derby winner Medina Spirit. Incredibly, that result still hangs in the balance.
Derby prep stakes will offer more points going forward to the May 2 classic but either Churchill Downs has to change its mind or the owners will have to move the horses to another trainer.
For now, Messier is an exciting sophomore who has four generations of Sam-Son Farm-bred mares from his dam and his dam’s sire (more pedigree notes below).
In the Lewis Stakes, Messier and jockey John Velazquez were able to out-foot second choice Sir London in the run to the clubhouse turn and dictated terms throughout from there. A half length in front turning up the backside, Messier was pressured by both Sir London and Cabo Spirit as he raced on a long rein past the half-mile pole.
Into the bridle around the far turn as Sir London fell back, Messier opened up three lengths on Cabo Spirit at the three-sixteenths pole and cruised to the wire in 1:42.89.
“The strategy worked,” said Velazquez. “I don’t think the blinkers would have hurt him or made a difference. It was just the way the race set up. I’m in post one and I don’t want to give the lead to them in front of me, then they slow down in front of my face and I can’t get out of there, so I asked Bob, ‘Bob, I’m going to come out running just to the first turn. I’m not going to chase them but I’m going to let him get his legs underneath of him. If they want to go faster, they can go faster and I don’t have to be on his mouth.’ He said, ‘No, do whatever you need to do.’ Then he asked me what the horse needed to do and I just (said), ‘I told him to GO!’.”
Baffert was impressed. “Jim (assistant, Barnes) had Johnny work him for me once and he gave me some good input on him,” said Baffert, whose 3-year-old filly Adare Manor took the Grade III Las Virgenes earlier in the day by 13 lengths. “He’s maturing, I could tell today that he’s growing, he’s getting bigger. You could tell when I put the saddle on him. He looked incredible, he looked the part.”
A $470,000 Fasig-Tipton Select Sale yearling in 2020, Messier is the third named foal and first to race for Checkered Past who won two editions of the Trillium Stakes at Woodbine for Sam-Son and she earned $334,294 in her career.
Checkered Past, whose sire Smart Strike was a Grade 1 winner and leading sire for Sam-Son, is from the farm’s unraced CATCH THE FLAG, a daughter of Canadian Champion 3-Year-Old Filly CATCH THE RING.
Catch the Flag has produced eight named foals, four winners. Her daughter Catch the Fire’s first foal, Legal Catch, is a 2-year-old of this year and was a $45,000 CTHS Ontario yearling in 2021, purchased by Begg Racing from breeder Tan Hyka.
Catch the Ring produced seven winners including stakes winner Catch the Thrill. Radiant Ring, the dam of Catch the Ring and fourth dam of Messier, was a graded stakes winner for Sam-Son and multiple stakes producer.
Sam-Son has dispersed most of its horses and Checkered Past was sold last winter to Silesia Farm for $240,000 in foal to Candy Ride (Arg).
ADARE MANOR’s similarly impressive win in the Las Virgenes, a stepping stone to the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 1, also puts Canadian breeding in the headlines. This large filly is the first foal of BROOKLYN’SWAY, the Giant Gizmo – Explosive Story, Radio Star gal who won six stakes including the Grade 3 Doubledogdare Stakes. Woodbine owner and trainer John Ross purchased and raced Brooklyn’sway from breeder HJT Stable and won four stakes with her before selling her for $180,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton November sale. Town and Country Farm and Gary Broad bred Adare Manor (Uncle Mo). Brooklyn’sway has a 2021 colt by into Mischief.