As only a maiden winner, Midnight Interlude stepped up to pull a shocker in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), so Bob Baffert gave him a chance in the first two classics. The son of War Chant was disappointing in both races (16th in Kentucky Derby, 13th in Preakness, both gr. I), but because he was such a late-bloomer, Baffert was more hopeful than confident in his chances anyway.
The Derby and Preakness weren’t meant to be for Midnight Interlude, so Baffert will likely try him on grass next. No harm, no foul. Baffert would never admit this, but realistically, Midnight Interlude was probably not on his Tier 1 list of 3-year-old anyway. Because of injuries to some and the slow developing nature of others, his top sophomores did not even make it to the first two legs of theTriple Crown.
Most of them, which are still relatively unknown, are just now ready to hit their best strides, meaning that Baffert is queitly holding a strong hand this summer, and may wind up having a big say in some of the major 3-year-old races over the final seven months of the season.
“I’m looking forward to watching some of these run,” Baffert said. “I have to find a way to separate a few of them.”
Last week while at Pimlico, Baffert said that he will have at least one, but maybe two horses for the June 11 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). The most likely is Lanni Family Trust’s Awesome Patriot , winner of the 1 1/8-mile Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park on May 8. The son of Awesome Again was a bit late getting started this year, having made his debut in the March 12 San Felipe (gr. II) when sixth. As a 2-year-old, he won twice in four starts.
A $350,000 yearling purchase, Awesome Patriot seems to be coming into the Belmont very well, most recently working four furlongs in :48-flat May 22 at Hollywood, one week after turning in a bullet six-furlong move.
“I’ve always thought he would get better as he goes longer,” Baffert said.
Awesome Patriot won the Alydar by three-quarters of a length over stablemate, Uncle Sam, who was 2 1/2 lengths in front of the next horse. Kaleem Shah’s Uncle Sam was making his third start of the season. The Tapit colt won a one-mile optional claimer at Santa Anita on April 3.
“Both of them are possible for the Belmont,” Baffert said.
Baffert also did not rule out Zayat Stables’ Jaycito for the Belmont, calling him “50-50” for the 1 1/2-mile race, but he seems more unlikely since he still has not worked since April 2. Jaycito was withdrawn from Derby consideration in April with a foot bruise after finishing runner-up in the San Felipe. The Victory Gallop colt won the grade I Norfolk as a 2-year-old while trained by Mike Mitchell. Earlier in the year, Baffert considered Jaycito his best Derby chance, so he is still hopeful for a big second-half campaign.
“He’s coming around. We’ll try to make (the Belmont), but I’m not sure he’ll be ready.”
Though they are not Belmont contenders, Baffert has a pair of other 3-year-olds that could be stars in the making that are also coming out of the same race. Coil and Smash ran one-two, respectively, in a six-furlong optional claimer at Hollywood on May 6, with the third-place finisher another 9 1/4 lengths back. Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman’s Coil won the race by 1 1/4 lengths while earning a 106 Beyer Speed Figure. Kaleem’s Shah’s Smash tallied a 103 Beyer in defeat. Both were making their season debuts.
Coil, by Point Given , had a knee chip removed early in the season. As a 2-year-old he broke his maiden in his second start, winning by 3 1/4 lengths at Hollywood. Baffert, who trained 2001 3-year-old champion Point Given, purchased the colt privately for the new connections prior to that start.
Smash, a $400,000 2-year-old buy, scored in his racing debut last summer at Hollywood before being sidelined with a stifle injury. He is by Smart Strike.
“I’d like to separate them,” Baffert said. “I might take Coil to the Woody Stephens (gr. I, seven furlongs on Belmont Stakes day) and then the Haskell (gr. I, July 31 at Monmouth Park)."
Since that last race, Coil worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:10 2/5 May 23 on the Santa Anita dirt, while Smash went five furlongs in :59 3/5 the same day at Hollywood Park.
Baffert’s most brilliant 3-year-old, The Factor , is recovering from a slight hairline fracture in his ankle. Baffert is hoping to have him ready for the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 27 at Saratoga. The War Front colt won the San Vicente (gr. II) and Rebel (gr. II) before finishing seventh in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), where he was injured.
“We had to back off and give him time, but The Factor is still a freaky fast horse,” Baffert said. “I can’t wait to get him back.”