Midnight Storm wins the Del Mar Derby.

Midnight Storm wins the Del Mar Derby.

Benoit Photography

Midnight Storm Shakes Up Del Mar Derby

Front-running colt produces 17-1 surprise for Phil D'Amato in 1 1/8-mile grass test.

Midnight Storm  was able to parcel his speed effectively while on an easy lead in the $300,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) and glided through the stretch in command to post a 17-1 surprise Aug. 31 over the turf.

The race was the stakes debut for Midnight Storm and his second grass win of the meet for first-year trainer Phil D'Amato, who took over training the 3-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile  from Jorge Gutierrez earlier in the meet.

Tyler Baze, winning the Del Mar Derby for the first time, guided Midnight Storm to a commanding 3 1/4-length victory in crafty style for owners/breeders Marjorie Post Dye and Alex Venneri's Venneri Racing. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was 1:47.47 over firm going.

It was the second big turf win of the meet for D'Amato, who took over for retired trainer Mike Mitchell earlier this year. Big John B won the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 23.

In his first start for D'Amato Aug. 10, Midnight Storm scored a front-running half-length win while making his initial grass start in an allowance/optional claiming race at one mile.

"I was very confident because I've never had a horse train for a race like this before," D'Amato said. "The last race didn't take anything out of him. Tyler breezed him and he galloped out a mile in 1:39 and change and only really good horses do that on this racetrack. He gave me every indication he was going to give his best."

D'Amato said it was Baze's plan to go to the front in the field of eight sophomores.

"He worked him last time and I let him roll with it," he said of Baze, who rode Midnight Storm in a race for the first time.

Favored at 8-5 was Glen Hill Farm's Enterprising, who trailed early and never got into the fray while compromised by soft fractions. Enterprising was looking to become the fourth horse to sweep Del Mar's grass series for 3-year-olds after earlier wins in the Oceanside Stakes and La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIIT). He finished sixth.

"Absolutely no pace. Nothing to run at," jockey Mike Smith complained. "You have to make a decision with this horse right out of the gate. If you ask him to go, he'll go. But I was concerned about the extra distance and I thought there'd be more pace. Just didn't happen."

Midnight Storm outran Sawyer's Hill for the early lead and was allowed to have things his way up front while opening a two-length lead. Sawyer's Hill, Home Run Kitten, and Sammy Mandeville followed the pacesetter, who put the field asleep through even fractions of :24.24, :48.69, and 1:12.50. Midnight Storm and Sawyer's Hill began to draw away from the field rounding the final bend and it was down to those two in the homestretch.

"Sure was nice to go uncontested out there," Baze said. "No pressure helps. This is the first time I've won this race. Del Mar has been good to me."

Midnight Storm found more on the lead while in a drive from Baze and Sawyer's Hill, ridden by Martin Garcia could not catch him. Sawyer's Hill finished a head in front of the closing Talco, a French-bred colt making his United States debut for John Sadler with Corey Nakatani aboard.

Under equal weights of 122 pounds, Midnight Storm paid $36.60, $16.60, and $8 across the board for his first stakes win, topping a $280.40 exacta with 12-1 shot Sawyer's Hill, returning $12.40 and $8. Talco paid $6.80 to show.

"We weren't going that slow up there; we were just comfortable," Baze said. "I knew this horse was ready. I worked him the other day five eighths and then had a strong mile gallop out."

Rafael Bejarano, who came into the race 5-for-5 on the Sunday program, was aboard Sammy Mandeville, who finished evenly for fourth. Home Run Kitten, Enterprising, Aventador, and Flamboyant completed the order.

After two losing mounts, Bejarano came back in the eleventh and last event to win his sixth race of the afternoon, aboard Halljoy at $8.60. With four winners Saturday and six Sunday, the 32-year-old Peruvian is closing in on his third consecutive Del Mar riding title with 10 wins from only 16 mounts over the two-day period.

He is only the fifth jockey in Del Mar history to win six races in a day.

Midnight Storm, who broke his maiden in June going seven furlongs on dirt at Santa Anita Park, has three wins and two seconds from seven career starts, earning $285,810.

It was a big day at Del Mar for Pioneerof the Nile, who also sired Jojo Warrior, the $100,000 Torrey Pines (gr. III) winner on the Polytrack earlier on the program. Kentucky-bred Midnight Storm is out of the winning Bertrando mare My Tina, and is the fifth winner from as many starters produced by his dam.