Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon had placed in his two previous scoring races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, both going a one-turn mile, but Saturday’s $200,000 Lecomte Stakes (G3) played to his strengths. The Steve Asmussen trainee controlled the pace going two turns at Fair Grounds, and kept on too stoutly for Proxy and 4-5 favorite Mandaloun to catch.
A half-brother to Girvin, the 2017 Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) hero, Midnight Bourbon will try to emulate him on the next steps on Fair Grounds’ Road to the Derby. The Lecomte victory was worth 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1), increasing Midnight Bourbon’s total to 16 and propelling him to third on the leaderboard.
The son of Tiznow entered the Lecomte with 6 points – 4 from his runner-up effort in the Sept. 5 Iroquois (G3) and 2 from his third to stablemate Jackie’s Warrior in the Oct. 10 Champagne (G1). Asmussen was forecasting improvement in his sophomore debut over a route.
“Lovely horse, he’s a beautiful individual,” the Hall of Fame trainer said of the $525,000 Keeneland September yearling. “Obviously he had run some solid races, but we were very much looking forward to getting him into two-turn races. His pedigree, we think that going further will help him. He’s got a beautiful stride to him.”
Midnight Bourbon was able to use that beautiful stride every step of the way for Joe Talamo, who picked up the plum ride when Ricardo Santana took off his Saturday mounts. Breaking from the rail, Midnight Bourbon had the tactical speed to take command, and no rival complicated his task.
Two potential pace factors had scratched in favor of the 8TH race, Beep Beep and Manor House (who ran fourth and seventh, respectively, without either showing speed in the allowance). One Lecomte rival who could have gone forward, Santa Cruiser, was hampered at the start, pinched back, and relegated to last.
Thus Midnight Bourbon got comfortable carving out splits of :24.68 and :48.99. The tracking Proxy and Mandaloun took closer order at the 6-furlong mark in 1:13.57, but Midnight Bourbon maximized his ground-saving advantage to drive clear of them again.
As the leader continued to hold sway, the battle for the minors was ongoing. The hitherto unbeaten Mandaloun kept trying out wide, and managed to head Proxy briefly in the stretch, only to have the gutsy Godolphin colt fight back. The two gradually gained on Midnight Bourbon late, shaving his margin to a length.
Midnight Bourbon clocked 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.41, and his first stakes score enhanced his resume to 5-2-1-2, $221,420.
#1 Midnight Bourbon, a son of @WinStarFarm’s #Tiznow, refused to lose the Lecomte Stakes from @fairgroundsnola, picking up 10 #KyDerby points with @JoeTalamo up for #SteveAsmussen. pic.twitter.com/NDT48qLL0s
— TwinSpires Racing 🏇 (@TwinSpires) January 17, 2021
“It felt really good (to get the mount),” Talamo told Fair Grounds publicity. “Just really grateful to Steve for giving me the opportunity on him. Very, very classy horse. He broke like a rocket out of there and I just tried to be a good passenger from there. He settled like a champ and when those horses came to him down the lane, he fought (them) off, and he really galloped out very, very nice.”
Proxy ran his heart out in his stakes debut, outdueling Mandaloun by a head for 4 Derby points. Trainer Mike Stidham was delighted with how the blueblood responded to his first major test.
“Very, very happy with that,” Stidham said. “He was a little green last time, and both of his wins were on the lead, so he didn’t really learn a lot. But the way he dug in and held off the favorite (Mandaloun) in the end, and was getting to the winner, I couldn’t have been happier.
“I told (jockey) Mitchell (Murrill) that there was speed in here and he’s only won on the lead, so help him away from there and get a good position without giving up a whole lot. I think the farther the better; the mile and an eighth, and the mile and 3/16ths of the Louisiana Derby is only going to help him. We needed him to do what he did today (to keep going on) and he did it.”
Mandaloun endured a wide trip throughout in third, letting down pre-race hopes of a poignant win for Juddmonte Farms. Jockey Florent Geroux commented that the race shape might have been a factor for the colt, who had experienced a much faster pace in both of his sprint wins.
“I was in a good stalking position, two or three-wide,” Geroux said. “My options were limited. The winner just kept going. It was very close for second. The way we started, that’s the way we finished. Maybe it was the slow pace, but the horses in front of me had a better kick at the end.”
Mandaloun earned 2 points while finishing 8 3/4 lengths ahead of Santa Cruiser, who received 1 point in fourth. If not for his bad luck at the break, Santa Cruiser might have been in the mix early, and possibly closer at the wire. Another six lengths back in fifth came Arabian Prince, followed by Game Day Play, Regular Guy, and Red N Wild. Dyn O Mite was scratched along with the aforementioned Manor House and Beep Beep.
Asmussen was quick to confirm Midnight Bourbon for the Feb. 13 Risen Star.
“He was away nice and cleanly and Joe (Talamo) gave him a nice trip. He’s going to develop into an excellent 3-year-old. Absolutely (when asked about the Risen Star). We were very excited to get him down here (to New Orleans) and get him in this series and stuff. With him being capable of what he is away from there, the ground that he covers, I think it’s a natural fit.”
Considering how much Midnight Bourbon moved forward from his first to second start as a juvenile – progressing from a tiring third to a dominant winner at Ellis Park – the sophomore could have more up his sleeve next time.
Midnight Bourbon was bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings. The strapping bay is the fourth graded stakes winner out of the Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon, after Grade 3 scorer Cocked and Loaded; the aforementioned Girvin, whose signature win came in the 2017 Haskell Invitational (G1); and Pirate’s Punch, hero of last summer’s Philip H. Iselin (G3).
Midnight Bourbon’s fourth dam is Louisiana-bred celebrity Monique Rene, the ancestress of Silver Max, Shancelot, Kiss a Native, and Yes It’s True. Midnight Bourbon’s second dam, Catch My Fancy, is herself by Yes It’s True, thereby giving close inbreeding to Monique Rene.