After less-than-ideal runs in his last three graded stakes tries, Midnight Storm returned to form in standout fashion Nov. 27 at Del Mar, but he also showed a slightly different dimension.
Normally on the lead, the Phil D'Amato trainee stalked the early pace and surged late to claim the $250,000 Seabiscuit Handicap (gr. IIT). It was the first graded win for the 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt since his victory in last year's Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT).
With first-time jockey Victor Espinoza aboard, Midnight Storm sat 1 1/2 lengths off previous rider Tyler Baze and longshot Macro Access as the frontrunner ran fractions of :23.78, :48.63, and 1:13.36 through six furlongs. Midnight Storm took command in the final turn of the 1 1/16-mile turf test, however, and pulled away from all challengers to hit the wire in 1:42.70, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of second-place finisher Bal a Bali . Toowindytohaulrox, 45-1 as the gates opened, earned third in a photo with 2-1 favorite Seek Again.
"They asked me to ride him and I said OK, but I wanted to work him one time and get a feel," Espinoza said. "I worked him (the) time before last and found out he didn't like it if I took a hold. So today, I just wanted to bounce out of there and see what was going on. I let him do his own thing. He settled in behind there and he was just running easy.
"He liked it and I was really happy on the backstretch. He was nice and relaxed. At the three-eighths pole we went and he was gone."
The winner paid $9.60, $6, and $5.60 across the board. Bal a Bali brought $4.20 and $3.40, with Toowindytohaulrox delivering $11.80 to show.
Macro Access tired to run fifth, followed by Big Bane Theory, Alert Bay, Avanzare, and Abbey Vale to complete the order of finish.
Since his Del Mar Derby score, Midnight Storm's 2015 campaign appeared to be on a downward trajectory. He won an allowance/optional claiming event to kick off his 4-year-old season in April, finished a game second to Talco in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) after a bad start, then struggled in the Eddie Read (gr. IT) before switching to dirt to try Beholder in the TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I)—where he finished 36 3/4 lengths back in 10th. He then tried sprinting in the Eddie D Stakes (gr. IIIT), when he faded to sixth after leading.
"All we've been doing is trying to get him to rate," D'Amato said. "Victor has been working with him on that in the mornings and today he had him so relaxed on the backstretch. Then they pulled away when he asked. He looked like the Midnight Storm of old. He loves Del Mar and he loves a firm turf course. He didn't get it at the beginning (of the summer meeting) for the Eddie Read. Then we tried him on dirt (in the Pacific Classic), which was a mistake. I'll take the blame for that."
Owned in partnership by breeders Alex Venneri and Marjorie Post Dye, and Little Red Feather Racing, Midnight Storm now has a 5-3-0 record from 13 starts with $562,110 in earnings. He was bred in Kentucky out of the Bertrando mare My Tina.