Midships had things his own way while registering back-to-back grade II victories on the front end at Santa Anita this spring. Chasing his first grade I win in the $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap June 6 on the Hollywood Park turf, the Juddmonte Farms homebred is undoubtedly a big threat to do it again.
Trained by Bobby Frankel, Midships knows how to settle into a good cruising speed and make it last. That ability was demonstrated when the 4-year-old son of Mizzen Mast dictated the pace throughout while defeating small fields in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) March 21 at the about 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT) April 19.
He won't have as much distance in which to parcel out his speed in the 10-furlong Whittingham, but his tactical advantage should be formidable nevertheless. Of the five rivals entered against him, only Liquidity figures to put much pressure on Midships. But Liquidity, it appears, is suspect at the distance and will be making his turf debut.
Midships, who has awoken since being teamed with jockey Victor Espinoza for the San Luis Rey, has started four times in the United States, beginning with a third-place finish in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) Nov. 30. After starting his career in Great Britain, the gray/roan colt has won four of 14 starts and $345,475.
Artiste Royal won last year's Whittingham and is back to defend his crown for owners David and Jill Heerensperger and trainer Neil Drysdale. In a close finish, Artiste Royal defeated Monzante and Lava Man by a neck in the 2008 Whittingham.
The Irish-bred 8-year-old was no match for Midships while splitting the field in the San Luis Rey, but he has been rested since then and seems most comfortable at the 1 1/4-mile distance. His only win since the Whittingham came by a nose in Santa Anita's San Marcos (gr. IIT) at the distance.
Artiste Royale, to be ridden for the first time, by Joel Rosario, owns a 7-8-6 mark in 30 lifetime starts and can go over the $1 million mark in earnings with a repeat victory in the Whittingham.
Madeo, winner of the Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT) by a head in his last start on the Hollywood lawn April 26, signaled his readiness by working six furlongs on Cushion Track in a bullet 1:11 May 31.
Trainer John Shirreffs will try to follow the same path he did two years ago with After Market, who won the Inglewood and the Whittingham. Mike Smith will ride the 4-year-old Mizzen Mast homebred for Jerry and Ann Moss. Madeo won the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) last summer and has earned $463,715 in 13 starts, including five victories.
Madeo is the 119-pound high weight, while Midships and Artiste Royal each carry 118.
Globetrotter won Woodbine's Grey Breeders' Cup (Can-III) in October 2007. Out of action from November of that year until this past March, the 4-year-old son of Street Cry has started just five times, winning three, and comes off an allowance win going nine furlongs at Santa Anita April 17. John Sadler now trains the colt for Earle Mack.
Also on the comeback trail is the rejuvenated 6-year-old Union Avenue, who made his first start for Jerry Hollendorfer at Hollywood April 22 and scored his first victory in three years. He rallied to win an optional claiming race at 1 1/16 miles on turf under Rafael Bejarano.
Union Avenue was winless in eight starts since capturing the American Derby (gr. IIT) on the Arlington Park turf for Bill Mott in 2006. He had gone through two other trainers and three layoffs before his auspicious return in his first start since last June.
“He came to us last September and needed some work,” explained Dan Ward, Hollendorfer's Southern California assistant. “We sent him out to a farm and he came back to us at the beginning of the year.
“His comeback race was very good and he’s been training very well. He won the American Derby at 1 3/16 miles so I don’t think distance will be a problem. For a 6-year-old, he’s very lightly raced.”
The Virginia-bred son of Gone West, owned by William de Burgh, has won four of 15 starts and earned $303,640. Bejarano has the call back.
Liquidity, a 5-year-old son of Tiznow owned by J. Paul Reddam, won a 7 1/2-furlong allowance race for his second triumph in 11 lifetime starts for trainer Doug O’Neill May 2.
“Liquidity trains like a horse where distance will be no problem,” said O’Neill. “He’s a lot more mature now than he was as a 3-year-old."
$300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT, Race 9, 4:40 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Union Avenue (VA), R Bejarano, 114, J Hollendorfer
2. Midships (KY), V Espinoza, 118, R J Frankel
3. Liquidity (KY), T Baze, 112, D F O'Neill
4. Globetrotter (FL), J Talamo, 113, J W Sadler
5. Madeo (KY), M E Smith, 119, J A Shirreffs
6. Artiste Royal (IRE), J Rosario, 118, N D Drysdale