Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert didn’t get the dry track he wanted for Midnight Interlude's final serious move prior to the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum Brands (gr. I). But the 3-year-old son of War Chant turned in the fastest time among seven workers at five furlongs May 2 at Churchill Downs, covering the distance over a sloppy track in 1:00 4/5.
Midnight Interlude’s splits were :12 2/5, :24 2/5, :36 2/5, and :48 1/5. With jockey Martin Garcia aboard, he galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 and seven furlongs in 1:28 4/5.
Winner of the April 9 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) in his most recent outing while being ridden by his regular jockey, Victor Espinoza, Midnight Interlude breezed in company with 4-year-old Mythical Power. The Run for the Roses candidate passed his grade III-winning stablemate inside the sixteenth pole while running on the outside. Wearing black blinkers, Midnight Interlude left the track with his ears pricked while trotting briskly.
Mythical Power’s five-furlong time was 1:01, the morning’s second-fastest for the distance.
“He (Midnight Interlude) was happy and he handled it (the mud) very well,” Baffert said. “The track was in pretty good shape today.”
But the trainer added that he didn’t learn a lot from Midnight Interlude’s breeze because of the track’s condition.
“When you’re working in the slop like this, the only thing you get out of it is that ‘he went well; he came out of it well,’ ” Baffert said. “You can’t grade a work and say, ‘Oh, it’s fantastic’ because it’s in slop. I can’t do anything about it (the track’s condition), so I just have to deal with it. If it rains (on Derby Day), at least we’ve been over a wet track. I know one day when it was dry here and he galloped over it, he looked really good.”
Midnight Interlude has raced only four times in his career and he didn’t make his debut until January of this year. His lack of experience showed during the work, according to Baffert.
“He’s still green and he’s still learning how to run,” the trainer said. “Once he got in front of his workmate, he wanted to shut it down a little bit. He’s still figuring it out. The workmate could have kept him going a little farther, but I didn’t want to do too much with him (Mythical Power) because he’s running Friday (May 6), so he shut it down (after completing five furlongs).”
A homebred racing for Arnold Zetcher, Midnight Interlude captured the Santa Anita Derby by a head over Comma to the Top.
“He (Midnight Interlude) is a horse that is going to be running the last part of it, but he does need a target (to run at) because he sort of gets lost out there,” Baffert said. “When Comma to the Top just took off from him in the Santa Anita Derby, he was completely lost for a while, for a few jumps there. Victor had to really get into him and then all of a sudden, he realized, ‘I’ve got to catch that horse.’ He’s learning, He only has four more days to learn (before the Derby), but believe me, he’ll have plenty of targets in there.”
Baffert described this year’s Run for the Roses as a “pretty wide open” race.
“There are a lot of nice horses in there; there’s parity,” he said. “When you have a lot of equal horses and there’s not a standout, everybody thinks it’s not that tough of a field, but I think it’s a tough field. I’ve been watching all the horses train and they all have looked wonderful out there, really. I haven’t seen one horse that I looked at and said, ‘That horse has no chance.’ ”
Midnight Interlude’s biggest weakness, according to Baffert, is his inexperience.
“He’s just a horse that is learning as we go along and we’re learning more about him,” Baffert said. “I think the ability could be there, but we still have a way to go with him. He hasn’t been in a big crowd where he gets jostled around, so I don’t know how he will handle that. But in the Kentucky Derby, you need a horse that is moving forward and can go the distance. He’s been improving every day since I got here and he should (go the distance). The way he ran in the Santa Anita Derby, he looked like he was wanting more ground. I’m just glad to be here with a horse like him. At least he’s doing well and I think he is thriving. Whether he can take the next step forward, we’ll find out Saturday.”
Midnight Interlude broke his maiden in his third career race, romping by 8 ½ lengths in a one-mile event.
“Going into the Santa Anita Derby, in the paddock, I thought he looked better than anyone that day,” Baffert said. “I felt good about him, but I didn’t know if he was good enough. I said to his owner, ‘You know what, I don’t know if we can win it, but he sure looks good and he’s training well. I have a good feeling about this horse.’ ”
Midnight Interlude is “a horse that’s not going to wow you in the mornings,” Baffert continued, “but he’s strong and healthy and he looks great. I just train him and it’s up to Victor and the horse to get a good trip in the Kentucky Derby. You can come in here with a good horse like looking Lookin At Lucky and just get demolished, so I’ve just learned to have fun and enjoy it.”