One of four Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" stakes races on Del Mar's Pacific Classic program, the Pat O'Brien victor secures a spot in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, a race won last year in a romp by Midnight Lute over a sloppy Monmouth Park track. This year's Sprint is Oct. 25 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet.
"Midnight Lute looks good, he's training terrific, he's healthy and he's ready to go," said Bob Baffert, who trains the 5-year-old son of Real Quiet for the partnership of Mike Pegram and Watson & Weitman Performances. That spells trouble for the 11 rivals entered in the seven-furlong O'Brien. Midnight Lute is the 9-5 morning line choice.
The dark bay has posted four consecutive bullet workouts over the Polytrack surface at Del Mar in the past month. He recorded a seven-furlong drill of 1:21 3/5 Aug. 7, which was faster than the current track record for the two-year-old main track. Midnight Lute then came back to work five furlongs in :58 1/5 in his final tightener for the O'Brien Aug. 18 , the fastest of 84 timed at the distance that morning.
This will be Midnight Lute's first start since his second-place finish in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct a month after his smashing Breeders' Cup win. Prior to that, Midnight Lute scored by 2 1/2 lengths in Saratoga's Forego (gr. I). Baffert is bypassing the Forego this year with his star sprinter in order to give him a race over a synthetic surface. Midnight Lute won the Perryville (gr. III) on Keeneland's Polytrack in October 2006.
Midnight Lute has won five of 11 lifetime starts with earnings of $1,610,600. He'll start from post 3 with Garrett Gomez aboard.
In Summation, coming off a second-place finish behind Street Boss in the Bing Crosby Handicap (gr. I) after steadying at the eighth pole at Del Mar July 27, figures to be the champion's biggest obstacle. Christophe Clement trains the 5-year-old son of Put It Back who has won five of his past eight starts for Waterford Stable over the past 14 months, including last year's Bing Crosby. In Summation, with $965,166 in earnings, can go over the $1 million mark in his 24th start. He has 10 wins and six runner-up finishes.
To be ridden once again by Corey Nakatani, In Summation is 5-2 on the morning line.
Barbecue Eddy, who wilted to finish eighth in the Crosby after leading a hot duel on the front end for a half-mile (:44.62), should dictate the pace this time for Aaron Gryder. The Stormy Atlantic gelding, trained by Brian Korniner, has been knocking on the door for some time but is still seeking his first stakes win.
Grade II winner Lewis Michael ships in from Illinois for the team of owner Frank Calabrese and trainer Wayne Catalano after a fourth-place finish in the Sea O'Erin Stakes on the Arlington Park turf, the first start for the 5-year-old son of Rahy in nine months.
Rebellion, winner of the one-turn Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park and the Commonwealth (gr. II) at Keeneland this spring, cuts back for trainer H. Graham Motion following a fifth-place finish in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) last time out.
Hewitts, trained by Bob Hess Jr., was third in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) after a troubled trip May 3 and returns to action following more than three months on the sidelines. The 4-year-old Concerto gelding has been training smartly at the seaside track and figures to be part of the pace battle.
"We got a great draw (post 10), and we'll see how the pace scenario might play out," Hess said. "If we can make an easy lead or if we think he can be comfortable out in the open, we'll go. If not, we'll run in the Pirate's Bounty (Sept. 3)."
Arson Squad, another grade II winner, has failed to finish in the money in three Polytrack starts at Del Mar for trainer Bruce Headley.
How's Your Halo ran second -- at odds of 50-1 -- in his last start, the Smile Sprint (gr. II) at Calder Race Course July 12.
Pat O'Brien Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 5:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, ML Odds
1. Decado (IRE), 113, Alex O. Solis, 30/1
2. Rebellion (GB), 118, Rafael Bejarano, 15/1
3. Midnight Lute (KY), 122, Garrett K. Gomez, 9/5
4. Lewis Michael (KY), 118, Rene R. Douglas, 8/1
5. Arson Squad (PA), 116, David R. Flores, 15/1
6. Barbecue Eddie (MD), 115, Aaron T. Gryder, 8/1
7. Doppio (KY), 114, Jose Valdivia, Jr., 10/1
8. In Summation (FL), 121, Corey S. Nakatani, 5/2
9. Tall Texan (KY), 113, Joseph Talamo, 30/1
10. Hewitts (FL), 114, Victor Espinoza, 15/1
11. Hurry Up Austin (FL), 114, Jon K. Court, 30/1
12. How's Your Halo (FL), 116, Tyler Baze, 15/1