Midnight Storm fends off all comers in Eddie Read

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July 18th, 2016

On the heels of a determined front-running victory in the June 4 Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, Midnight Storm summoned even sterner resolve to wire Saturday’s $251,380 Eddie Read (G2) at Del Mar. In so doing, the 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile captured both turf prizes that had eluded him last summer.

But the 8-5 favorite almost didn’t make it to the gate for the Eddie Read. In the post-race interview with Scott Hazelton, co-owner/breeder Alex Venneri revealed that they seriously thought about scratching Midnight Storm out of a concern that the turf was riding slower than preferable. Midnight Storm is the type who likes to hear his hooves rattle, as the saying goes of firm-turf performers. Thankfully, a closer look at the data persuaded connections to let him take his chance, and fans were treated to a gutsy display.

Unlike the one-mile Shoemaker, where Midnight Storm set a fast pace and held on stubbornly, the Phil D’Amato trainee carved out a moderate tempo over this 1 1/8-mile distance. Jockey Rafael Bejarano was the mastermind of both trips, and he clearly has the knack for eliciting the best from him.

Although Midnight Storm was the beneficiary of such fractions as :23.82, :48.03 and 1:12.18, he wasn’t alone. Bolo attended on the outside, but surprisingly came up empty rounding the far turn. Perhaps he’s still feeling the aftermath of a throat infection that knocked him out of the Shoemaker. In any event, it’s back to the proverbial drawing board for Bolo, who trudged home last of nine.

Midnight Storm was hardly home free once Bolo bowed out, with challenges erupting left and right. Si Sage, a potential pace rival on paper who preferred to stalk, rallied up the fence to pose a danger. On the outside, Ashleyluvssugar rolled up and proved a tougher foe in the final furlong, while wider out, Flamboyant was making progress from farther back.

But Midnight Storm beat them all off. Under the top impost of 124 pounds, and the upper end of his distance range, he delivered a final eighth in :11.67 to prevail.

“Raf (Bejarano) saved just enough,” D’Amato said. “Bolo was all over him, he wasn’t getting any easy breathers.”

Midnight Storm crossed the wire a half-length to the good of Ashleyluvssugar, who was in turn a neck up on Flamboyant, with Si Sage a further head away in fourth.

This should put Ashleyluvssugar spot on for his third start off the layoff, the August 20 Del Mar H. (G2) at 1 3/8 miles. Flamboyant, the only horse to close from worse than midpack, ran particularly well in this first start back from Dubai. He definitively answered the question of whether he’d carry his winter form into the Del Mar summer. Finnegans Wake, last in the middle stages of the race, was a better-than-appears fifth. He’s worth watching back up in trip. Fellow closers Patentar and Texas Ryano never factored. Brazilian-bred Ohio didn’t handle this class test, but he hurt his own cause by being rank early, and racing wide, in his first try at nine furlongs.

Midnight Storm finished in 1:47.88, advancing his career record to 17-7-3-0, and he’s approaching millionaire status with $981,110 in earnings. His mark on the Del Mar turf is a spiffy 4-for-5, highlighted by the 2014 Del Mar Derby (G2) and last November’s Seabiscuit (G2). His only loss here was a fifth in the 2015 Eddie Read, but he more than atoned for that on Sunday. Similarly, last time out, he’d improved on his runner-up effort in the 2015 Shoemaker Mile. Midnight Storm’s picking a good time to reach top form, with the Breeders’ Cup returning to Santa Anita this fall. Might he stick around for the 2017 Breeders’ Cup down at old Del Mar?

“The reason I ran him in here is he came out of the last race (Shoemaker Mile win) like he hadn’t even run,” D’Amato said. “His confidence is just sky-high right now. When he gets good he gets really good and he’s just coming into his own.

“If he comes out of this race like he came out of his last one, maybe the Del Mar Mile ([G2] on August 21), but we’ll see what he tells us.”

Venneri, who bred Midnight Storm in partnership with Marjorie Post Dye, now campaigns him with Little Red Feather Racing. An RNA for $38,000 at Keeneland September, the Kentucky-bred is out of the Bertrando mare My Tina.

Photo courtesy of Benoit