Richard Baltas has had quite a year bringing fillies and mares to the West to win graded grass stakes and continued that trend with Midnight Crossing Dec. 30 in the $100,000 Robert J Frankel Stakes (G3T) at Santa Anita Park.
A $240,000 purchase by owners Abbondanza Racing and Medallion Racing out of the 2017 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, the Irish-bred daughter of Dark Angel (IRE) hit the front early in the 1 1/8-mile turf test, cruised on the lead, and just held off favored East Coast shipper Elysea's World to win by a half-length at odds of 22-1 in her first start for Baltas.
In a field that appeared to be devoid of early speed, Midnight Crossing took command under jockey Brice Blanc with stablemate Gliding By tracking closely. The pace was moderate, as Midnight Crossing opened up a clear lead with fractions of :23.27, :48.94, and 1:12.90 through six furlongs, while the two Chad Brown-trained invaders—Elysea's World and Penjade—raced at the back of the six-horse field.
"I just told the jocks to go at whatever (pace) they were comfortable," Baltas said. "It was a good job by Brice."
Penjade never improved from sixth and was eased late by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., but Elysea's World was still able to rally into the slow pace.
"The slow pace was really hard to overcome," said Javier Castellano, who rode Elysea's World. "Especially in a small field, I didn't want to change my filly's style of running. She likes to come from off the pace and I thought, 'Hopefully she can kick like she always does.' She did, but the winner didn't come back enough."
Midnight Crossing finished off the distance in 1:48.10 on firm turf.
"She broke a little awkwardly, but I gave her a little squeeze and she just jumped on the bridle," Blanc said. "I just pitched her head and when I hit the first eighth of a mile, she started to relax. She kept relaxing and looking around, and I could tell I had a lot of horse.
"At the three-eighths pole—that's when the running started. She was there for me. There were some nice fillies that finished strongly. I was a little worried that they'd outkick me, but she kept really digging in."
The Frankel score was the fourth graded grass win by a Baltas-trained female in 2017, following Goodyearforroses (also owned by Abbondanza and Medallion) in the March 12 Santa Ana (G2T), Hillhouse High in the April 8 Royal Heroine (G2T), and Madam Dancealot in the July 23 San Clemente (G2T).
Bred by Tom and Geraldine Molan, out of the Sadler's Wells mare Line Ahead (IRE), Midnight Crossing earned her first stakes win in the Frankel and now has a 3-2-1 record from 18 starts, with $131,377 in earnings.