Midnight Storm gets his Shoemaker Mile

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 5th, 2016

Beaten a half-length here last year after a bobbling start took him out of his rhythm, Midnight Storm made no mistake with a front-running verdict in Saturday’s $400,345 Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. Aside from the Grade 1 coup for his resume as a stallion prospect, the Phil D’Amato charge secured an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) over this course as part of the BC Challenge program.

The 9-2 Midnight Storm had a pace rival in 4-5 favorite Heart to Heart, and a war of wills was in the offing between the two who each prefer to dictate. With new rider Rafael Bejarano, Midnight Storm was intent on grabbing the tactical upper hand through a quick opening quarter in :22.68. Jockey Julien Leparoux conceded the issue aboard rail-drawn Heart to Heart, opting to let Midnight Storm go and steered the favorite off the fence and into an outside perch.

But Heart to Heart, who is even a more one-dimensional need-the-lead type than Midnight Storm, didn’t appear comfortable in pursuit. In contrast, Midnight Storm was in his groove, head low, and winging it through fractions of :46.00 and 1:09.95. Heart to Heart made an attempt to accost the leader rounding the far turn, but he beat a quick retreat as Midnight Storm rebuffed him.

All the while, Tourist had appeared to be in the catbird’s seat in third, watching the swift pace and waiting to pounce. Seamlessly taking up the baton from the fading Heart to Heart, Tourist ranged up to Midnight Storm’s throat latch down the stretch.

Despite reaching seven furlongs in 1:21.75, Midnight Storm had enough left to pull out another :11.80 furlong, and Tourist cried enough. Midnight Storm fended him off by a half-length while zipping the firm-turf mile in 1:33.55.

Although Tourist couldn’t enhance his future stallion profile for WinStar Farm, the Versailles, Kentucky, nursery still had good reason to celebrate the result. Midnight Storm became a fresh Grade 1 winner for WinStar stallion Pioneerof the Nile, best known for siring Triple Crown star American Pharoah.

Twentytwentyvision fared best of the closers, a non-threatening third 4 1/4 lengths adrift of Tourist. Heart to Heart was beaten a total of 7 1/2 lengths in fourth. Cape Wolfe and Home Run Kitten raced at the back throughout.

Campaigned by A. Venneri Racing and Little Red Feather Racing, Midnight Storm has now bankrolled $831,110 from his 16-6-3-0 line. The dark bay was an imperious 3 1/4-length winner of the 2014 Del Mar Derby (G2), but didn’t capture another stakes until last November’s Seabiscuit (G2). He was next seen in the March 12 Frank E. Kilroe (G1) at this track and trip, where he strangely wasn’t sent forward early. Unsurprisingly, he wound up running evenly in fourth. But as D'Amato noted, the rain-affected course that day didn't suit him anyway.

Midnight Storm was allowed to resume his free-wheeling preference in the May 7 Woodford Reserve (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day, only to tire late in seventh. Perhaps it was a case of going too fast for 1 1/8 miles on Churchill’s Matt Winn turf, especially after the brief but intense storm. Alternatively, maybe it was a shade far in those particular circumstances. After all, he probably hadn’t gotten that much out of the Kilroe, and the Woodford Reserve was just his second race back since November. In any event, Midnight Storm’s chief weapon was back in business in the Shoemaker.

Quotes from Santa Anita

Winning trainer Phil D’Amato: “He had his ears up the whole time. If he had his ears pinned back and he looked like he was going full speed, I would have been concerned. But I thought Raffy saved a little bit at the top of the lane. It’s vindication, because I thought he should have won it last year. He was kind of up against it, but he’s vindicated, and now he’s a Grade 1 winner. Onward to the Breeders’ Cup.

“He had been training so good the last couple weeks coming off the layoff. He was a little bit unlucky in that he hit two soft turf courses, and he doesn’t like it soft. He likes it firm like today, and when you get that firm turf course, he’ll give you a performance like this. We were going to sit 1-2. If the 1 was adamant on going, we were going to sit right on him, and if he wanted to sit back, we were going to do what we did today. It went as planned.”

Winning rider Rafael Bejarano: “I knew Heart to Heart was going to try for the lead and if I let him get to the lead, he’d control it. Julien tried to relax his horse right away. My horse is tough to control and I don’t want to fight with him, so I let him run a little bit into the first turn. After that I tried to get set up, tried to get him relaxed and I had a lot of horse. I had plenty of horse and he just took off.”

Jockey Jose Lezcano on runner-up Tourist: “It was a fast pace, but the horse on the lead just kept going. The plan was to lay close. My horse ran a good race and he gave me everything he had.”

Jockey Julien Leparoux on fourth-placed favorite Heart to Heart: “We had a good trip, we had no excuses today. He settled nicely for me and he just didn’t have any kick left at the end, that’s it.”

Photo courtesy of Benoit.