The withdrawal of Arrogate from Sunday’s $196,000 San Pasqual (G2) also withdrew the major storyline from Santa Anita’s holiday feature. But after Midnight Storm readily splashed home as the front-running 3-5 favorite, a newly compelling storyline began to take shape. Talk swirled that he could angle for a spot in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) – and try to upstage the rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome at Gulfstream Park.
His early speed a potent asset on both dirt and turf, Midnight Storm faced a straightforward task against only three foes remaining in the San Pasqual. The wet-fast track deterred Arrogate, or rather his trainer Bob Baffert, but it played right into the hands of the new favorite. Jockey Rafael Bejarano ensured that Midnight Storm broke sharply from his outside post, cleared the field, and secured the rail, and the rest went according to script.
Although Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux did his best to hound Midnight Storm aboard Dalmore, the pacesetter always appeared to be in his comfort zone. Midnight Storm’s pace was fast, as he doled out splits of :23.02, :45.59 and 1:08.93, but the sealed surface was pretty glib. Shrugging off the shadow of Dalmore in upper stretch, he was just kept to task to hold sway by 1 1/4 lengths from closing Accelerate. Midnight Storm, who reached the mile mark in 1:33.98, finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.65.
“I thought he would love the surface,” trainer Phil D’Amato said of Midnight Storm, who crushed the November 27 Native Diver (G3) on a good track at Del Mar. “They were going fast. I saw :45 and 1:08 and change, but he dug in there gamely and held them off today.
“We were going to the lead, whether Arrogate was in or not,” the trainer added. “Rafael (Bejarano) followed the game plan. We thought Accelerate would be the one pressing us, not Dalmore, but it still worked out and he maintained through some grueling fractions and he showed his class in the stretch.”
“The track has been playing fast since earlier today,” Bejarano recapped. “I knew I had to put my horse on the lead. I needed a good start and when I put him on the lead I felt the pressure right away. Dalmore was right next to me, chasing me the whole way. I kept him on the lead but tried to give him a breather at the half-mile pole. At the three-eighths I knew he would keep running. He loves to be on the lead and he always gives me something else.”
Dalmore retreated to third, a further 2 1/2 lengths astern. Prospect Park didn’t appear enthused at any stage, despite getting blinkers, and reported home a distant last of the quartet. Might a return to turf wake up the talented but enigmatic son of Tapit?
Midnight Storm is in the form of his life at the moment, and transferring his well-established ability on turf to the main track. The winner of the 2014 Del Mar Derby (G2) and 2015 Seabiscuit (G2) on turf, the son of Pioneerof the Nile reached a new level in 2016. He scored a Grade 1 coup in the Shoemaker Mile (G1), extended his winning streak to three in the Eddie Read (G2) and Del Mar Mile (G2), and chased an unsustainable pace when soldiering on for third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). The dark bay made a rare dirt foray for the Native Diver, and he’s now won two in a row on off tracks, improving his mark to 21-10-3-1, $1,461,110.
“Obviously, Arrogate scratching improved our chances of winning today,” D’Amato commented. “In my eyes, that horse is the Horse of the Year. At the same time, there’s a bit of you that wants to test your horse against the best and see where you stand but I’m very happy with my horse’s performance.”
That last sentence begs the question of the January 28 Pegasus, where Midnight Storm would get the acid test “against the best” in the world’s richest race.
Co-owner/breeder Alex Venneri (who races him in partnership with Little Red Feather Racing) told TVG that such a move would be up to D’Amato. As reported by Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen, his owners are discussing the possibility of pursuing a deal for a Pegasus spot.