Midnight Storm at Oaklawn Park

Midnight Storm at Oaklawn Park

Coady Photography

Midnight Storm Seeks Grade 1 Dirt Win in Gold Cup

Son of Pioneerof the Nile just missed in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

Already a grade 1 winner on turf, A Venneri Racing and Little Red Feather Racing's Midnight Storm  looked like he was going to lock down a top-level score on dirt turning for home in the March 11 Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (G1).

The 6-year-old Pioneerof the Nile  horse had a 1 1/2-length advantage on East Coast challenger Shaman Ghost  with a furlong to go in the Big 'Cap, but could not hold off his late charge and came up three-quarters of a length short.

Back at Santa Anita Park May 27, Midnight Storm will have another shot at a grade 1 win on dirt in the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes, and he won't have to contend with Shaman Ghost, who came back to win the Pimlico Special Handicap (G3) May 19 off his Big 'Cap victory.

"We take everything race by race with him and look for the most logical spot," trainer Phil D'Amato said of Midnight Storm, who has five graded wins on grass to go with his graded victories on dirt in the Native Diver (G3) and San Pasqual (G2). "He got beat by (less than a length) in a grade 1 on dirt here. The (1 1/4-mile) distance is definitely within his scope and the surface is definitely to his liking. The Midnight Storm that showed up in that race should show up Saturday."

BALAN: Shaman Ghost Wears Down Midnight Storm in Big 'Cap

After the Santa Anita Handicap, Midnight Storm was shipped to Oaklawn Park where he finished third after setting a quick pace in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2). D'Amato felt, at least in comparison to his races locally at Santa Anita, the Oaklawn effort was subpar.

"The tricky surface at Oaklawn played a big part," D'Amato said. "If he likes the surface, he shows up. If he likes the surface, I think he wins that race. We got him back to the surface he likes and he is back to pulling the rider (during training)."

To get that top-level score on dirt, however, Midnight Storm will have to contend with a pair of talented Bob Baffert-trained runners looking to return to their top 3-year-old form. Both Baffert runners in the Gold Cup—American Freedom  and Cupid —won multiple stakes at 3. American Freedom took the Iowa Derby (G3) before he finished second in both the Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes and Travers Stakes (both G1), while Cupid won the Rebel Stakes (G2), Indiana Derby (G2), and West Virginia Derby (G2) last year.

LAMARRA: Well-Traveled Cupid Takes West Virginia Derby

Another Baffert 4-year-old who was pointing to the Gold Cup, Collected, was not entered. Baffert said he did not like how Collected was training toward the race. The City Zip colt loomed as a major contender after open-lengths wins in the Santana Mile and Californian (G2) to start his 4-year-old season.

"He didn't work with the energy I was looking for," Baffert said of Collected, who also had his share of success at 3, with wins in the Lexington (G3), Sunland Park Festival of Racing, and Sham (G3) stakes.

Other graded winners entered for the Gold Cup include the top two finishers out of the April 2 Tokyo City Cup, Hard Aces and Big John B.

BALAN: Hard Aces Grinds Out Tokyo City Cup Victory

Hard Aces won the 2015 Gold Cup, but has only won two races since—the Cougar II Handicap (G3) and Tokyo City Cup, both at 1 1/2 miles. Big John B, another D'Amato trainee, last won the 2016 Tokyo City Cup, but came up a neck short in the 2017 edition.

Alicia Wincze Hughes contributed to this story.

Entries: Gold Cup at Santa Anita S. (G1)

Santa Anita Park, Saturday, May 27, 2017, Race 8

  • Grade I
  • 1 1/4m
  • Dirt
  • $500,000
  • 3 yo's & up
  • 4:39 PM (local)
11American Freedom (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateMartin Garcia122Bob Baffert4/1
22Follow Me Crev (KY)Kent J. Desormeaux122Vladimir Cerin4/1
34Prime Attraction (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJamie Theriot122James M. Cassidy30/1
45Midnight Storm (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateFlavien Prat124Philip D'Amato5/2
56Cupid (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateRafael Bejarano124Bob Baffert6/1
67Big John B (FL)Mike E. Smith122Philip D'Amato8/1
78Accelerate (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateTyler Baze122John W. Sadler4/1
89Hard Aces (KY)Santiago Gonzalez122John W. Sadler8/1