A 5-year-old German-bred, Messi began his career in Europe making 12 starts before being transferred to the barn of trainer Graham Motion.
Winning his stateside debut on July 2 at Belmont Park in an optional-claimer, Messi followed with another optional-claiming win on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course before entering the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at 1 miles, where he bobbled at the start and finished disappointing seventh.
Cutting back to 1 1/8 miles for the Knickerbocker and breaking from post-position 2 under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, Messi was settled back and content to trail the field of nine as longshot Cage Fighter set modest fractions through the half.
At the quarter-pole, Velazquez began to angle Messi out from the rail where he began to pass tiring rivals while traveling three-wide.
Engaging a game Cage Fighter at the sixteenth pole, Messi was able to get up in the last jump in front before the wire to earn the victory by a nose.
“When he ran for the first time at Belmont he was last at the quarter pole and he came running,” said Velazquez. “Going a little shorter today I was a little worried about it, but they were going so slow and he was pulling all the way to the half-mile pole. It took him a little bit to get going, but once he switched [leads] down the lane I thought he was going to get there.”
Leaving the gate as the 4-1 third choice, Messi boosted his career earnings to $302,899.
Following Cage Fighter in second was Mr Speaker, with Legendary, All Included, Middleburg, War Dancer, Hothersal, and Blingo completing the order of finish.