At this time last year, trainer Graham Motion was already thankful for the gift he received from England in the form of Breeders’ Cup Turf Champion Main Sequence. This year it may be another gift from overseas by way of a German bred colt named Messi.
In both cases the English born trainer will be credited with taking somewhat average horses from Europe and turning them into stakes contenders in North America.
For Main Sequence it was the addition of Lasix that helped propelled him from average horse to the 2015 Turf Eclipse winner.
This year unfortunately for Main Sequence his dream ended with a tough trip to the Arabian Peninsula and a 7th place finish in the Dubai Sheema Classic followed up by another 7th at Monmouth in the United Nations.
Main Sequence was retired after that race siting an inflamed tendon.
No sooner was Main Sequence retired before Graham Motion fired another very talented European transfer in his barn.
A five-year-old gelding, Messi out of the sire New Approach from the Galileo line. The dam side is where he gets his name and country of origin. That mare being the German bred Messina.
Though Messi has not duplicated Main Sequence’s extraordinary run off of five graded stakes wins, he has looked more than impressive in winning 3 of 4 races since coming to America. What he also has done is legitimized the Midas touch Graham Motion’s Midas has shown for turning average horses in Europe into impressive winners here in the states.
Before coming to the states Messi was turning into an ‘also ran’ in races in Germany. Then he came to the states, was gelded and given the anti-bleeding drug Lasix.
After that he won his first two races. Although they were only optional claiming races, jockey J.R. Velasquez won both victories under a confident hand ride.
However after that the Messi was thrown into the deepest of waters in terms of American Turf racing; the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga.
This was a huge step up, and a race that if he were to get in the money would have to be perfectly executed.
Unfortunately it was anything but perfectly executed. Right from the start he was in trouble. After a slight bobble at the break his fate was sealed. Not only did the bobble set him back, but also he had to be gunned from there to maintain with the field. He then lost ground by going three wide around the turns. However at the end of the day, the simple fact was he went up against a juggernaut performance by the all world turf colt, Flintshire.
In his next race however, Messi would redeem himself by winning the Grade 3 Knickerbocker Stakes at Belmont Park in a gutty performance. Racing from the back of the pack, Messi closed strong into a slow pace to catch 34-1 shot Cage Fighter right at the wire.
This Thanksgiving Day Messi will attempt to win his second Grade 3 in a row when he runs in the River City Handicap at Churchill Downs. The race is scheduled to go off at 3:53ET and will be run at a distance of a mile and one eighth.
Messi will spend Thanksgiving with his favorite jockey J.R. Velasquez has been installed as the 9-5 morning line favorite. If he is going to win he will have to beat eight other horses, but his main competition will most likely come from the 3 horse, Heart to Heart. Heart to Heart is a front running speed horse and Messi will have to utilize his late closing kick to catch the 2-1 second choice.