Gestut Brummerhof’s Messi, expertly handled by Edgar Prado, kicked clear to a comfortable score in Sunday’s co-featured $204,400 Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes, at Woodbine.
Trained by Graham Motion, the six-year-old New Approach chestnut was making his first start in Canada in the 1 1/4-mile turf event for three-year-olds and upward. Messi, winless since making the grade in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker at Belmont in October, used a more prominent approach in the Sky Classic tracking Fixador through comfortable early splits.
Up With the Birds, the 8-5 mutuel favourite under Eurico Rosa da Silva, raced from the back of the pack in the field of seven but edged closer through the turn as Messi got the jump on his rivals with Fixador fading.
Button Down, shuffled back to last through the turn, rallied wide down the lane outside of Up With the Birds as Are You Kidding Me found an inside route, but there was no catching a runaway Messi who scored by 2 ½-lengths. Are You Kidding Me stayed on strong for place over Up With the Birds who won a show photo over Button Down. Messi covered 1 1/4-miles in 2:00.89.
Shape of the race provided Prado good reason for a prominent approach.
“It seemed there wasn’t much speed in the race. The only speed was the horse in front (Fixador), first time with blinkers,” said Prado. “We traveled in second all the way and hoped to come home strong. He was doing everything so easy. He had plenty left in the stretch.”
Messi, initially campaigned in Germany, was shipped to North America and the care of Motion for a compact 2015 campaign that included three wins from five starts. The chestnut had finished third in two 2016 starts coming into the Sky Classic, including a strong effort last time out in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap.
“I really like this horse and most of his disappointing races I have a pretty good explanation for. I thought he ran well last time at Arlington,” said Motion. “We caught a really soft turf course at Churchill (Grade 3 River City Handicap, Nov. 26) last year and he got a clod in his eye and had some pretty serious surgery. He had the winter off and we saved the eye and he’s back better than ever.”
Messi, bred in Germany by his owner, banked $120,000 in victory while improving his record to 6-5-2 from 20 starts.
He paid $10.20, $4.10 and $2.40, combining with Are You Kidding Me ($3.90, $2.70) for a $33 (4-8) exactor. A 4-8-6 triactor (Up With the Birds, $2.20 to show) was worth $73.90. Dynamic Sky was scratched.