Midshipman, unbeaten in two starts for trainer Bob Baffert after his gritty victory in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I), heads a field of 10 in the $250,000 Norfolk Breeders Cup Stakes (gr. I) at Oak Tree's Santa Anita meet Sept. 28.
This will be the first two-turn effort for Stonerside Stable's homebred son of Unbridled's Song. Midshipman defeated Coronet of a Baron by a nose in a dramatic Futurity at seven furlongs on Del Mar's closing day Sept. 3. The Norfolk, at 1 1/16 miles, is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge race with the winner earning a ticket to the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Oct. 25 on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface.
With a lineup that includes Azul Leon, who won the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar on a disqualification, and a pair of strong Eastern invaders -- Sapling Stakes (gr. III) winner Silent Valor and Regal Ransom, a first-out maiden winner at Saratoga a month ago -- the Norfolk shapes up as a tough heat.
Baffert, seeking his fifth victory in the Norfolk, was excited after seeing Midshipman work four furlongs in :46 4/5 on the track Sept. 24.
“He went really nice, really well,” Baffert said. “We’re just looking forward to Sunday. He’s still green and he’s still learning, but (it) was probably his best work. I had him behind another horse. He sat perfectly, and when he pushed the button, he just took off perfectly. So I’m really happy with the way he’s coming into this race.”
Midshipman broke his maiden at first asking going 5 1/2 furlongs on Del Mar's Polytrack just five weeks ago.
“He’s just learning how to run; he’s a nice horse, there’s a lot of quality there,” Baffert said. “You never know about going two turns until you do it, but he’ll handle it pretty well. He’s a very smart horse.”
Tyler Baze has ridden Midshipman in all of his races. Midshipman will break from post six.
Joseph Lacombe's Azul Leon has not raced since being placed first after a being interfered with in the 6 1/2-furlong Best Pal stretch run Aug.10. Azul Leon was taken wide by Kelly Leak and then nearly closed off when jockey Rafael Bejarano tried to slip through an opening between horses. Azul Leon finished second in the original order behind Kelly Leak.
Trained by Doug O'Neill, the Lion Heartcolt was finishing fastest of all in the Best Pal, but he figures to get a stamina test here. Bejarano has the return engagement.
Silent Valor, trained by Todd Pletcher for Let's Go Stable, has back-to-back victories after closing wide en route to a 1 1/2-length win in Monmouth Park's six-furlong Sapling Aug. 31. Another son of Lion Heart, Silent Valor broke his maiden by 6 1/2 lengths on a sloppy Belmont Park track six weeks prior to the Sapling effort. Garrett Gomez will be the dark bay's fourth rider in four starts.
The maiden Street Hero was forced to angle in during the stretch run of the Del Mar Futurity and arrived just a tad late while finishing three-quarters of a length behind Midshipman. It was the second time that Myung Kwon Cho's homebred son of Street Cry came up short against Midshipman. Street Hero finished second to the choice in the aforementioned maiden race at Del Mar. Alex Solis, aboard Street Hero for the first time in the Futurity, rides once again.
Regal Ransom, a son of Distorted Humor trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for Darley Stable, showed good speed in his debut at Saratoga, going nearly gate to wire to win by three parts of a length. He was kept busy by Alan Garcia, who makes a rare appearance in Southern California for the Norfolk.
Trainer Ron Ellis expresses confidence in Jay Em Ess Stable's Believe in Hope, who comes right back after a late-running fifth-place finish in the Del Mar Futurity. “We weren’t beaten far in the Del Mar Futurity (3 3/4 lengths), he was a little green, and he went a little wide," Ellis said. "There are a lot of factors that could put us in the winner’s circle on Sunday.”
Believe in Hope, by 1995 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Thunder Gulch, should find the distance to his liking.
“It has been a natural progression for him,” Ellis said. “The way he’s bred and the way he acts, we think he will be good around two turns.”
$250,000 Norfolk Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. I, Race 8, 4 p.m.), 2-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Regal Ransom, Alan Garcia
2. Azul Leon, Rafael Bejarano
3. Del Conte, Victor Espinoza
4. Street Hero, Alex O. Solis
5. Liturgical, Aaron T. Gryder
6. Midshipman, Tyler Baze
7. Believe in Hope, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
8. Tiger Blitz, Martin Garcia
9. Silent Valor, Garrett K. Gomez
10. Brushburn, Joseph Talamo
Each assigned 122 pounds.