Southern California trainer Bob Baffert continues to see dividends from his decision to take a string from his Southern California stable to Saratoga. In the $250,000 Forego Handicap (gr. I), his Midnight Lute made the lead rounding the turn of the seven-furlong test and rolled to his first grade I win by more than two lengths under substitute rider Shaun Bridgmohan.
The 4-year-old MIdnight Lute, making his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup (gr. II) at Keeneland in April, set a stakes mark in the seven-furlong Forego of 1:21 flat. The time was three ticks off the track record.
“That was great!" exclaimed Baffert. "This horse is very deserving of a grade I. He’s been a great horse from day one. It has been unfortunate that he’s had the breathing issues. When you win a grade I at Saratoga, that’s huge for a horse like him.
“I don’t think he’s a (Breeders’ Cup) Sprint horse. Three-quarters might be too short for him. We’re just going to absorb this and take it in."
Concerned about the effect the Polytrack surface at Del Mar was having on his precocious younger horses after a poor start to the meet, Baffert acquired 10 stalls at Saratoga recently. He hasn't started many as the Spa's season winds down, but has won with four of his first seven to run. He plans to maintain a string in the East for the Belmont Park fall meet.
Bridgmohan replaced Edgar Prado, who was reportedly hospitalized after an accident galloping out after the seventh race.
Bridgmohan had Midnight Lute perfectly positioned on the outside as favored High Finance and Attila's Storm hooked up shortly after the start. The opening quarter-mile went in :22 4/5. As they were completing the half in :45 1/5, Midnight Lute cruised up three paths wide to collar the leaders, taking command at the top of the stretch. He was never threatened in the lane under strong left-handed encouragement from Bridgmohan. The winning margin was 2 1/4 lengths.
"I was glad to see him get away from there clean," Baffert said. "He looked tremendous in the paddock, and he’s been working fantastic. The gate crew did a great job with him. I told Shaun, 'If you get him away from the gate okay, you’re going to have a fun ride.’ I’ve been waiting for a race like this. He needed to show off, and he did it at the right place – Saratoga.”
"He is such a big horse that he breaks a little sloppy," Bridgmohan said. "He had his ears pricked forward and was just enjoying himself. When I called on him, he dug in.”
Benny the Bull, last early under Mark Guidry, made a prolonged run from the quarter pole to gain second by more than nine lengths over Attila's Storm and Rafael Bejarano.
“He ran his heart out," Guidry said of the runner-up. "Dutrow had him in top form for this race. It seemed like Midnight Lute was too much to beat here. You can’t discredit him for that.”
High Finance, the 2-1 favorite in the 10-horse lineup for trainer Richard Violette Jr. after his impressive win in Belmont Park's Tom Fool Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) July 4, faded in the stretch to finish eighth.
"With these horses, that wasn’t a stupid pace," said Violette. "He just had no fight. He didn’t leave Attila’s Storm. We’ll take a good look at him and see if we can find a reason.”
The lightly raced Midnight Lute, a Kentucky-bred colt by Real Quiet--Candytuff (Dehere) owned by Michael Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, won for the first time since taking Keeneland's seven-furlong Perryville (gr. III) last October. The dark bay colt has won three of his five starts at seven panels. Overall, he owns a 4-2-1 record in nine tries with earnings of $470,600.
Tom Evans, Macon Wilmil Equines and Marjac Farms bred Midnight Lute, a $70,000 Keeneland yearling buy in 2004.
Sent off as the second choice, Midnight Lute paid $7.20, $4.60 and $3.70, topping a $59 exacta with Benny the Bull ($8.80, $5.80), who was coming off a fourth-place finish in Saratoga's A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II) July 28. Attila's Storm, second in the Vanderbilt, was $4.90 to show while rounding out a $341.50 trifecta.
It was a half-length to fourth-place finisher How's Your Halo, followed by Awesome Twist, Simon Pure, Executive Search, High Finance, Praying for Cash and Like Now. Chatain, expected to be a leading contender in the Forego, was scratched with a foot bruise.