Fittingly enough for a horse named after a pivotal naval battle, Don Alberto Stable and WinStar Farm’s Battle of Midway relished the sloppy conditions at Santa Anita Saturday to topple 1-2 favorite McKinzie in the $200,000 San Pasqual (G2).
The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee had run well in both of his appearances on a “wet-fast” track, sailing home in his career debut here two years ago and boxing on for third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1). Conversely, McKinzie hadn’t tried an off surface before. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, or maybe he was just plain beaten by the 2-1 second choice in a dogfight.
Perfectly ridden by Flavien Prat, Battle of Midway exercised a watching brief on the outside as the pace fracas unfolded. Giant Expectations darted through to seize the front-running role from Dalmore through an opening quarter in :22.86. McKinzie crept forward to prompt through a half in :46.09, and Battle of Midway moved in tandem to keep close tabs on the one to beat.
As they reached six furlongs in 1:09.33, McKinzie and Battle of Midway ganged up on Giant Expectations. But with the favorite not exactly telegraphing confidence between horses, McKinzie fans had cause for pause rounding the far turn.
Battle of Midway was the one striding out with authority, and the son of Smart Strike and Grade 1 heroine Rigoletta took command entering the stretch. Hall of Famer Mike Smith, trying to use his wiles rather than the whip, almost persuaded McKinzie into it. The favorite came back and threatened to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, but Battle of Midway called upon his strategic reserve.
In the final yards, Smith resorted to the whip. McKinzie immediately signaled his displeasure by swishing his tail. Whether it was a sulk, or just a case of already trying his utmost on a track he didn’t like, McKinzie could not draw back on even terms.
Battle of Midway bested McKinzie by a half-length while splashing 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.95. Earlier in his career, the bay was more vulnerable at this distance. Runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Oklahoma Derby (G3), and sixth in the Haskell Invitational (G1), Battle of Midway excelled at slightly shorter trips. He starred in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar after romping in that summer’s Affirmed (G3) and Shared Belief.
Retired to stud following his productive sophomore campaign, Battle of Midway was found to be subfertile and returned to training last year. Not only did he retain his ability, but his racing manners too. Battle of Midway won third off the layoff in the one-mile Comma to the Top S., and hinting that he’d strengthened as an older horse, he prevailed in the 1 1/8-mile Native Diver (G3). He was most recently second in the December 26 San Antonio (G2), and his scorecard now stands at 16-8-4-2, $1,589,049.
McKinzie was 4 1/4 lengths clear of Giant Expectations. Pavel was a non-threatening fourth, and Dalmore tailed off to last in the scratch-reduced field. Dabster, Shivermetimbers, and Sonneteer all stayed in the barn.
Battle of Midway was bred by Erik and Pavla Nygaard’s Thor-Bred Stables in Kentucky and sold for $410,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton. He was not the only son of Rigoletta running in a graded stakes on Saturday; his $900,000 half-brother by Medaglia d’Oro, Moretti, finished sixth in the Withers (G3).
Initially racing for Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, Battle of Midway changed hands privately prior to the Kentucky Derby. If his time as a stallion was brief, the five-year-old is repaying Don Alberto and WinStar’s faith during this second phase of his racing career. And he’s still an entire. Might there be a second phase to his breeding career as well?
Quotes from Santa Anita
Winning rider Flavien Prat: “I thought to the other race when we were out on the lead and we had been pressed the whole way, it felt like he (Battle of Midway) was really comfortable doing that, so with the outside road today, I thought it might be better to stay outside.
“I think the key was being outside. The draw was very important. I don’t think either horse liked to get pressure inside and I was able to stay just outside McKinzie the whole way. My horse likes to play around a little when he makes the lead, but he still finished good.”
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer: “Very nice and good ride by Prat, I thought we had our horse ready and Bob’s (Baffert’s) horse (McKinzie) was very game too, so it was a good race.
“We were kind of undecided what the speed was going to be I thought Bob would send his horse harder, but he didn’t do that so that kept us wide into the first turn, which was a good strategy for them.
“I thought we could get him (McKinzie) and I thought Prat rode a great race. The other horse fought back, but we got lucky in the last couple jumps. We’ll enjoy this and see what’s up (next).”
Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who rode runner-up McKinzie: “I broke in front of him (Battle of Midway), but if I had to do it over again, I would’ve taken my horse back.”