Triple Crown Weekend Prep Report Card: Midnight Bourbon Aging Well

One Kentucky Derby qualifying points race was held over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, but there were a couple of other races worth looking at.

The points race was the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes from Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La., a 1 1/16-mile contest offering 17 Derby points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1). While no winners of the Lecomte have gone on to capture the G1 Kentucky Derby, there are some notable successes in the not-too-distant past, including G1 Preakness winners War of Will (2019) and Oxbow (2013). Going back a few more years to 2007, you’ll find Derby runner-up Hard Spun on the Lecomte winner’s roster.

Tampa Bay Downs ran the Pasco Stakes, a starting point for the Oldsmar, Fla., track’s Derby qualifying points races: the Feb. 6 Sam F. Davis (17 points) and March 6 Tampa Bay Derby (85 points). The Pasco, run at seven furlongs, offered a $125,000 purse but no Derby points and has never produced a winner that had an impact on the Triple Crown.

Finally, California-breds were in the spotlight at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., including 3-year-olds in the Cal Cup Derby. While this might not be a points race, let’s remember that a Lucky Pulpit colt named California Chrome launched his 3-year-old championship campaign (including Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins) with a victory in the Cal Cup Derby.

As I wrote in my first 2021 Triple Crown Weekend Prep Report Card, the following grades are entirely subjective and based on my personal “eyeball test,” Beyer Speed Figures from Daily Racing Form, historical significance of the race and perceived quality of fields. I don’t employ an “easy” curve in my grading.

Jan. 16: Lecomte Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Fair Grounds

Midnight Bourbon was second-choice in the wagering behind the Brad Cox-trained Into Mischief colt Mandaloun, the 4-5 favorite who came into the Lecomte undefeated in two starts: a six-furlong maiden win at Keeneland Oct. 24 and an allowance victory at Churchill Downs Nov. 28. Midnight Bourbon, trained by Steve Asmussen, chased the front-running (and likely distance challenged) Jackie’s Warrior last time out when third in the G1 Champagne Stakes at a one-turn mile at Belmont Park Oct. 10. Michael Stidham-trained Proxy (by Tapit) won back-to-back maiden and allowance races around two turns in November and December at Fair Grounds after narrowly losing his debut at Monmouth Oct. 24.  He was the 8-1 fifth choice in the betting.

Midnight Bourbon and Joe Talamo hold off Proxy and Mandaloun to win the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds

All three come from serious racing and breeding operations: Midnight Bourbon is a Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred Tiznow colt; Mandaloun is a Juddmonte Farms homebred; and Proxy is a Godolphin homebred produced from the outstanding racemare Panty Raid, winner of the G1 Spinster at Keeneland.

Midnight Bourbon has the goods pedigree-wise, being a half brother to G3 Salvatore Mile winner Pirate’s Punch (by Shanghai Bobby); G1 Haskell winner Girvin (by Tale of Ekati); and G3 Iroquois winner Cocked and Loaded (by Colonel John). Now pensioned Tiznow, the two-time G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, has been an outstanding sire. He was a late developer, not debuting until late April of his 3-year-old campaign and winding up the year as the champion 3-year-old male and 2000 Horse of the Year. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think Midnight Bourbon will age well.

Joe Talamo, subbing for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard Midnight Bourbon, took it to his rivals early, outhustling Proxy and Mandaloun for the early lead and laying down 24 and change fractions all the way around the Fair Grounds oval and repelling bids from Proxy and a three-wide Mandaloun from the three-eighths pole to the wire, holding them at bay by one length.  Trainer Cox said he might put blinkers on Mandaloun for his next start in the Risen Star, where he’ll get a rematch with Midnight Bourbon.

The winner earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure in the Lecomte, a significant improvement from his previous best Beyer, 80, when second to late-running Sittin On Go at Churchill Downs in the G3 Iroquois Sept. 5 after making a bold move to the lead on the turn for home.

Midnight Bourbon ran his final sixteenth in 6.32 seconds and the final five-sixteenths in 30.85 in his first true two-turn test (he broke his maiden going a mile on the peculiar Ellis Park layout where they start coming out of a chute on the clubhouse turn).

Grade: B

Jan. 16: Pasco Stakes, seven furlongs, Tampa Bay Downs

The Bill Mott-trained Union Rags colt Nova Rags jumped off the Daily Racing Form past performances page as the only 3-year-old in the eight-horse lineup to contest a graded stakes, finishing fourth in the G3 Nashua at Aqueduct on Nov. 8.

Nova Rags was made the 13-10 favorite and ran to his odds, winning by 2 ¾ lengths under Samy Camacho despite going very wide throughout (five wide going into the final turn). Nova Rags covered seven furlongs in 1:24.55 and earned a 75 Beyer Speed Figure, three ticks lower than a 78 Beyer in his debut maiden victory at Belmont Park Oct. 10.

Nova Rags draws off late under Samy Camacho to win the Pasco Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths

Out of a Smart Strike mare, the Michael Shanley homebred should improve with distance and Hall of Famer Mott is known for his patience with all of his horses. It’s hard to take much from this race, especially when you go back and look at how soundly he was defeated in the Nashua, where he lost by 14 ¼ lengths without apparent excuse.

Grade: D

Jan. 16: California Cup Derby 1 1/16 miles, Santa Anita

Trainer David Hofmans added blinkers to Big Fish’s equipment for this race restricted to California-bred or -sired horses after removing the hood two starts back. This a long-striding colt by the Dynaformer stallion Mr. Big who probably wasn’t best suited when sent out for a 4 ½-furlong maiden test last June 19 in his debut, finishing second. After another sprint try on dirt where he finished third to Cal Cup Derby favorite Good With People, Hofmans moved Big Fish to turf, where he graduated against state-breds going one mile, then won the Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes against open company at the same distance.

Big Fish put in a big stretch run to win the California Cup Derby under Juan Hernandez

In the Cal Cup Derby, jockey Juan Hernandez allowed Big Fish to settle well behind the early leaders, commenced a drive around the three-eighths pole, saved ground into the stretch and ran down Good With People and Peter Miller stablemate None Above the Law. Big Fish won going away by 1 ½ lengths in a fairly pedestrian 1:46.37 for 1 1/16 miles, earning a 71 Beyer Speed Figure.

Hofmans now has options for the Legacy Ranch homebred, who comes from the same female family as Pasco winner Nova Rags. The fourth dam of Big Fish is Kaylem Ho, and Kaylem Ho is the second dam of Nova Rags. Kaylem Ho was a member of Mrs. Henry D. Paxson’s excellent broodmare ban in the late 1970s in Pennsylvania.

Grade: C-

Coming up on Friday’s opening-day card at Oaklawn is the Smarty Jones Stakes at a mile, with 17 Derby points offered. The following weekend, the Road to the Kentucky Derby gets more serious with the Jan. 30 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park  and Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita.

Previously: Jan. 3 Triple Crown Weekend Prep Report Card

The post Triple Crown Weekend Prep Report Card: Midnight Bourbon Aging Well appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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