Arnold Zetcher's homebred Midnight Crooner tracked the early pace set by Canuletmedowneasy and Chips All In in the $109,300 first division of the Oceanside on Del Mar's opening card Wednesday, before overhauling the latter runner in the lane to score by a neck. Rafael Bejarano put together the winning ride aboard the Bob Baffert trainee, who completed a mile on the firm turf in 1:34 3/5.
Canuletmedowneasy and Chips All In duked it out on the front end through fractions of :22 4/5, :47 2/5 and 1:10 4/5, but the pace took its toll on Canuletmedowneasy. That one was easily passed on the outside by Chips All In entering the stretch, but Midnight Crooner was just gearing up. The War Chant sophomore had been biding his time in third but came with a furious rally down the center of the track to score his second win and add a first stakes triumph to his resume.
"I had a beautiful trip today," Bejarano said. "I followed that No. 9 (Chips All In) all the way around. Then when it came time, my horse did his best. He ran hard and we got there."
Midnight Crooner was sent off the 4-1 fourth pick and returned $10.20, $5.40 and $3.60 for his nice win. Chips All In had three parts of a length to spare on Koast, while Blingo followed in fourth by a length. Boat Trip was a neck up on Facoltoso, while Canuletmedowneasy completed the order under the wire after Guidopanzini and You Know I Know were both withdrawn.
Midnight Crooner opened his career on the dirt at Santa Anita last October, but couldn't find the board while well-beaten on both occasions. Baffert transferred the Kentucky-bred to the Golden Gate Field's all-weather Tapeta for his seasonal bow on February 18, and the bay colt responded with a romping 7 1/2-length victory.
A third in the grassy Pasadena Stakes followed, but a trip to Kentucky didn't pan out as Midnight Crooner finished eighth in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 14. The three-year-old shipped back to California to score in an optional claimer over Hollywood Park's turf last out, and entered this one off a 73-day break.
"He's a better horse on grass; for sure," Bejarano said.
"I've been pointing this horse for this race," Baffert said. "I thought he'd be the favorite. He (Bejarano) rides these horses with a lot of confidence. Mr. Zetcher was so excited. He puts a lot of money into these horses and it's great to win at Del Mar, especially on Opening Day. It's crazy here. It's like (Kentucky) Derby Day without the Derby. It goes to show that racing is alive and well in California."
The Oceanside win improved Midnight Crooner's record to read 7-3-0-1, and he's now banked $128,765 in lifetime earnings. Out of the Group 1-placed Groom Dancer mare Midnight Kiss, the bay is a full brother to last year's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude.
Midnight Kiss is herself a half-sister to Group 3 victor Or Acier, and this female family has also produced Grade 1 diva Bemissed, who was third in the 1983 Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and 1991 Group 1 Oaks queen Jet Ski Lady, as well as Group 2 heroine Desert Team.
Midnight Crooner will continue to compete on the turf at Del Mar.
"We'll play it by ear (regarding the Del Mar three-year-old stakes series which includes the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap on August 11 and the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on August 23)," Baffert said. "We want to make sure he makes the (Del Mar) Derby."