By Alan Porter
The second weekend of April was a bad one for favorites on the Triple Crown trail. In New York, Uncle Mo , long-time market-leader in Derby betting and odds-on for the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I), could do no better than third. Meanwhile on the West Coast, the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) lost Premier Pegasus, the early first choice, with a hairline fracture of a cannon bone discovered a couple of days before the race, and then trainer Bob Baffert was forced to scratch morning line favorite Jaycito due to a foot-bruise. However, the Baffert bench is deep this year—he also has a potential Derby Day favorite in The Factor —and he found a capable replacement for Jaycito in the shape of Midnight Interlude.
A lightly-raced Arnold Zetcher homebred, Midnight Interlude was making only the fourth start of his career in the Santa Anita Derby. Unraced at 2, he was third in a six-furlong Santa Anita maiden on his debut, then second in a similar event over a mile. On his only other outing prior to the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), Midnight Interlude gained an impressive 8½-length victory in a one mile maiden run over a wet-fast track. Although Midnight Interlude still showed some signs of greenness in his stakes debut, he was good enough to run down grade I winner Comma to the Top in the final strides after making a four-wide move on the turn (VIDEO).
If the day was a bad one for favorites, it was a good one indeed for the Danzig line, which is already well represented this year by second-crop sire War Front (who has a pair of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopefuls in The Factor and Soldat from his first crop) as the Wood Memorial Stakes fell to Toby's Corner, who is from the first crop of Bellamy Road (by Concerto, a son of Danzig’s juvenile champion Chief’s Crown), and Midnight Interlude is by Danzig’s son War Chant.
War Chant himself was a one-time classic contender. A winner in his only start at 2, he prepared for the Triple Crown at 3 at Santa Anita. Following a January allowance win, War Chant gained his first graded victory in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. II). Second in his Santa Anita Derby challenge, War Chant took his chance at Churchill Downs, but could do no better than ninth behind Fusaichi Pegasus . Following the Derby, War Chant was away from the races until mid-October, when he reappeared on the turf to capture the Oak Tree Mile (gr. IIT), in a quick 1:33.75. He made the final start of his career three weeks later in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) and triumphed over a field that included Affirmed Success, Dansili, North East Bound, Muhtathir, and Forbidden Apple. With looks to match his pedigree—he was not only by Danzig, but also out of champion 3-year-old filly Hollywood Wildcat—and race-record, War Chant retired to stand at Three Chimneys Farm at an initial fee of $75,000.
War Chant hasn’t quite fulfilled the highest expectations—something borne out by his 2011 stud fee of $12,500—but he has been a steady sire of stakes winners, with 28, including 14 group/graded scorers, from his first seven crops. In addition to Midnight Interlude he has also been most notably represented by Kingsfort, a group I winner in Ireland at 2; last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) victor Chamberlain Bridge; and graded or group scorers Brilliant, War Kill, Karen’s Caper, Chattahoochee War, Sea Chanter, Ballymore Lady, Norman Invader, El Roblar, and Asperity.
Midnight Interlude is not only War Chant’s first U.S. grade I scorer (aside from the jumper Pierrot Lunaire), but he is also the sire’s first graded winner on natural dirt, an achievement that couldn't have been predicted from the distaff side of Midnight Interlude’s pedigree. His dam, Midnight Kiss, is by the European-raced Blushing Groom horse Groom Dancer. Best at around 10 furlongs and blessed with a very sharp turn of foot, Groom Dancer was a black type winner in France at 2, 3 and 4, his most prestigious victory being a Prix Lupin (Fr-I) tally over Trempolino, who was to take the Trusthouse Forte Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) later that year. Groom Dancer went on to a solid career as a sire, getting 41 stakes winners, including the Derby Italiano (Ity-I) captor Groom Tesse, other group or grade I winners Lord of Men, Sphenophyta, Deauville, and Le Balafre, and the English sprint highweight Pursuit of Love. He’s broodmare sire of 50 stakes winners, including other group/grade I winners Rouvres, Tout Seul, and Beckett.
Midnight Interlude’s dam, Midnight Kiss, was conceived on a shuttle sojourn to New Zealand. She ran just four times, winning a maiden over 9½ furlongs and an allowance race at around 11 furlongs, and ended her career with a good third in the New Zealand Oaks (NZ-I), run over 2,400 meters. the metric equivalent of 1½ miles. Midnight Kiss has spent her entire stud career in the U.S., and has one previous winner, the Point Given filly Prime Kiss, from her first three foals. Midnight Kiss’s dam, Midnight Assembly, is by Night Shift—a brother to Fanfreluche—who stood in the U.S., England, Ireland, and Australia, and was a successful sire especially with his European runners. Midnight Assembly never ran, but was half sister to Or Acier, highweighted 3-year-old sprinter in Italy, and to the dams of the minor stakes winner Fit The Script and Stoneyer, a champion at 2 and 3 in Puerto Rico. The third dam, the unraced Secretariat daughter Secorissa, was a sister to the Bed o’ Roses Handicap (gr. III) winner Who’s to Answer and half sister to Slip Screen, who was successful in the Long Island Handicap (gr. III), and to Bemis Heights, winner of the Ruthless Stakes (gr. III). Bemis Heights’ Nijinsky II daughter, Bemissed, won the Selima Stakes (gr. I) and subsequently produced the Vaguely Noble filly Jet Ski Lady, a runaway 10-length winner of the 1991 Gold Seal Epsom Oaks (Eng-I). Bred to Blushing Groom, the grandsire of Midnight Kiss, Bemis Heights also produced Desert Team, who took the Princess of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-II).
Secorissa’s dam, Orissa, had an intriguing pedigree, as she was by juvenile champion First Landing, out of stakes winner Salt Lake, a daughter of Horse the Year Hill Prince, a half brother to First Landing, and thus inbred 2x3 to the notable mare Hildene. Since Hill Prince was by Princequillo, and Salt Lake was out of Yarmouth, Salt Lake was closely related to another Horse of the Year, Round Table, who was by Princequillo out of Yarmouth’s dam, Knight’s Daughter.
Midnight Interlude (TrueNicks-rated A++) is bred on a cross that has proved fruitful, that of War Chant over Blushing Groom-line mares. The cross has been represented by only 17 starters but has produced four stakes winners and a total of six stakes horses (better than 35% stakes horses to starters). It’s also worth mentioning that the combination of Northern Dancer through Danzig and Night Shift found here already appears in 23 stakes winners, 10 graded. With a view to Midnight Interlude’s stamina potential, it’s encouraging that the averaging winning distance for colts bred on the War Chant/Blushing Groom cross is in excess of nine furlongs, as shown on the TrueNicks Enhanced report for this cross. Given that Midnight Interlude’s dam was classic-placed over 1½ miles, it would be a surprise if Midnight Interlude has any problems with the Derby trip. In view of his background, it will also be no surprise if he tries the turf at sometime in the future.