Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith had an easy pickup ride aboard Midnight Storm in the $100,690 Native Diver Stakes (gr. III) Nov. 27 at Del Mar, as the versatile 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile galloped out to an easy lead, was never threatened, and drew off to a 7 3/4-length victory .
The win was the most emphatic of Midnight Storm's 20-race career, and marked an effortless return to dirt after 10 of his last 11 starts came on turf for trainer Phil D'Amato and owners A Venneri Racing and Little Red Feather Racing. He came off a credible third in the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at odds of 13-1 to score his latest victory.
Midnight Storm took command shortly after the start of the 1 1/8-mile test on a good track, toting a 125-pound highweight assignment and Smith in the irons to replace Flavien Prat. Regular rider Prat was unseated breaking from the gate in the third race Sunday, and was cleared to ride his remaining mounts, but was experiencing physical discomfort and was excused by the stewarts from further competition.
"Phil didn't tell me anything," Smith said. "He just said, 'If he likes it (the off track), you'll have some fun.' He looked to be the only speed and I caught a flyer coming away from there. He was going so easy; I never moved my hands. He was looking around, so I knew he was happy. Then when I asked him to do some running, he did it. Very impressive."
Midnight Storm put up fractions of :23.89, :48.36, and 1:13.53 without challenge from his six rivals, carried on through a 1:38.95 mile, and finished up under a hand ride in a final time of 1:51.59.
"He did it the right way," D'Amato said. "Mike got him to relax beautifully and at the three-eighths pole he just put the squeeze on him a little bit and (Midnight Storm) opened up on them. It's important (the graded stakes win on dirt) for a lot of reasons. At stud in the future, and it gives us a lot more opportunities to look at for next year."
The stakes win was the first of the fall meet and the first in the Native Diver for D'Amato. He now has 13 stakes wins at Del Mar. It was the second of the fall meet but first in the Native Diver for Smith, who now owns 60 Del Mar stakes wins to rank 11th all-time among riders.
Midnight Storm returned $5.20, $3.40, and $2.60 as the 8-5 choice. Point Piper, who finished a head in front of Hard Aces, brought $5 and $3.80. Hard Aces ($2.60) was followed home by Blue Tone, Pretentious, Imperative, and Ebadan.
Bred in Kentucky by Alex Venneri & Marjorie Post Dye out of the Bertrando mare My Tina, Midnight Storm improved his record to 9-3-1 from 20 starts for earnings of $1,341,110.