Midnight strikes in Seabiscuit

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

November 28th, 2015

After losing his way over the summer, Midnight Storm is back. Last year’s scintillating Del Mar Derby (G2) winner snapped a four-race losing skid with a smart performance in Friday’s $251,000 Seabiscuit H. (G2) back at the seaside track.

But unlike the Del Mar Derby, achieved in his typical on-the-engine style, Midnight Storm successfully employed stalk-and-pounce tactics for new jockey Victor Espinoza, who certainly has a way with offspring of Pioneerof the Nile. With the retirement of Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) hero American Pharoah, Espinoza might have formed his next lucrative partnership with a Pioneerof the Nile colt.

Although Midnight Storm was quickly into stride from post 7, the rail-drawn Macro Access (under Midnight Storm’s former rider, Tyler Baze) was determined to wrest command. Espinoza was content to let his rival go, and more important, he got Midnight Storm to relax contentedly as well. Macro Access, who secured the lead through an opening quarter in :23.78, accordingly got away with a slow half in :48.63 on the firm turf.

Thus unfolded the Seabiscuit’s plot twist: a race that figured to produce a fast, or at least honest, pace instead turned into a waltz. Macro Access wasn’t good enough to take advantage, but Midnight Storm was. And those trying to come from off the pace – notably the 5-2 Bal a Bali, who was settled in a ground-saving spot in the next flight, and especially 2-1 favorite Seek Again, who was last – were tactically compromised.

Espinoza executed the coup de grace at the perfect time, sending Midnight Storm to the attack after six furlongs in 1:13.36. The 7-2 chance dispatched Macro Access turning for home and turned on the speed in the dash down the stretch. By motoring his final sixteenth in :5.91, Midnight Storm simply could not be caught. The Phil D’Amato charge covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.70 and paid $9.60.

Bal a Bali quickened late to finish second, but the winner was gone. While the Brazilian Triple Crown star again acquitted himself honorably, this result just reminds me why I want to see him going longer.

Midnight Storm’s stablemate Toowindytohaulrox held third by a nose from the lunging Seek Again, who continues to make life hard on himself. If only Seek Again could be cajoled into a halfway decent position, and not leave himself a mountain to climb…

Macro Access faded to fifth. Alert Bay, third early, couldn’t pick up as it turned into a sprint, and he wound up a disappointing seventh of nine.

Campaigned by his breeders, Marjorie Post Dye and Alex Venneri Racing, in partnership with Little Red Feather Racing, Midnight Storm has compiled a record of 13-5-3-0, $562,110. His resume features a close second to the ill-fated Talco in the June 13 Shoemaker Mile (G1). In the interim, he tired to fifth in the July 18 Eddie Read (G1), and engaged Bayern in a mutually suicidal duel in the August 22 Pacific Classic (G1). He took the blinkers off and shortened up to a turf sprint in the October 3 Eddie D. (G3) at Santa Anita, where he vied early before retreating to sixth.

Now that Midnight Storm has turned over a more tactically versatile leaf, the lightly raced four-year-old should give us plenty to look forward to on this circuit in 2016.

Quotes from Del Mar

Jockey Victor Espinoza on Midnight Storm: “They asked me to ride him and I said OK, but I wanted to work him one time and get a feel. I worked him time before last (Nov. 15) and found out he didn’t like it if I took a hold. So today, I just wanted to bounce out of there and see what was going on. I let him do his own thing. He settled in behind there (behind frontrunner Macro Access) and he (Midnight Storm) was just running easy. He liked it and I was really happy on the backstretch. He was nice and relaxed. At the three-eighths pole we went and he was gone. Good race for him; he’s a good horse.”

Trainer Phil D'Amato on Midnight Storm: “All we’ve been doing is trying to get him to rate. Victor (Espinoza) has been working with him on that in the mornings and today he had him so relaxed on the backstretch. Then they pulled away when he asked. He looked like the Midnight Storm of old. He loves Del Mar and he loves a firm turf course. He didn’t get it at the beginning (of the summer meeting) for the Eddie Read (fifth as favorite on turf rated good). Then we tried him on dirt (last in the Pacific Classic), which was a mistake. I’ll take the blame for that.”

Jockey Rafael Bejarano on runner-up Bal a Bali: “No excuses. I had a good trip. Got to save ground on both turns and be right where I wanted to be. My horse fired and I thought I was going to catch the winner. But he was too strong today. He was best.”

Photo courtesy of Benoit.