Midnight Storm © Zoe Metz Photography
Under a flawlessly-timed ride by Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza, 2014 Del Mar Derby winner Midnight Storm cruised to a decisive triumph in Friday’s featured Grade II $250,000 Seabiscuit Handicap for older Thoroughbreds.
Midnight Storm, sent postward the fourth choice at 9-2, tracked pacesetting longshot Macro Access until the head of the stretch where he surged into command and then continued on strongly to the wire to score by one and three-quarter lengths in 1:42.70 for the mile and one-sixteenth over the infield turf course.
Bal a Bali, second choice at 5-2 under Rafael Bejarano, finished steadily to be second, three-quarters of a length in front of outsider Toowindytohaulrox who nosed out 2-1 favored Seek Again for third money.
Midnight Storm, a four-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile, is owned by the partnership of Alex Venneri, the Marjorie Dye Revocable Trust and Little Red Feather Racing and trained by Phil D’Amato. The victory was the colt’s fifth in 13 starts and first prize of $150,000 increased his earnings to $562,110.
Midnight Storm returned $9.60, $6 and $5.60, Bal a Bali paid $4.20 and $3.40, while Toowindytohaulrox returned $11.80 to show.
There was a single perfect ticket in the Pick Six Friday and it paid $64,402.40.
Racing resumes Saturday at Del Mar, the next-to-last day of the fall Bing Crosby Season. A stakes triple-header tops the nine-race program with the Grade I $300,000 Hollywood Derby the featured attraction. Post time for the first race is 12:30 p.m.
VICTOR ESPINOZA (Midnight Storm, winner) – “They asked me to ride him and I said OK, but I wanted to work him one time and get a feel. I worked him time before last (Nov. 15) 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 (behind frontrunner Macro Access) and he (Midnight Storm) 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. Good race for him; he’s a good horse.”
RAFAEL BEJARANO (Bal a Bali, second) – “No excuses. I had a good trip. Got to save ground on both turns and be right where I wanted to be. My horse fired and I thought I was going to catch the winner. But he was too strong today. He was best.”
TIAGO PEREIRA (Toowindytohaulrox, third) – “I had a good trip. He ran well. A good race for him.”
PHIL D’AMATO (Midnight Storm, winner) – “All we’ve been doing is trying to get him to rate. Victor (Espinoza) 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 (fifth as favorite on turf rated good). Then we tried him on dirt (last in the Pacific Classic), which was a mistake. I’ll take the blame for that.”
FRACTIONS: :23.78 :48.63 1:13.36 1:36.79 1:42.70
This is the second running of the Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar. Previously, it had been run at Hollywood Park 37 times.
This is the first stakes win of the fall meet for rider Espinoza. It was his 86th stakes win overall at Del Mar, eighth best of all time.
This is the first stakes win of the fall meeting for trainer D’Amato. It is his seventh stakes win at Del Mar.
Midnight Storm is owned by Little Red Feather Racing (headed by Billy Koch), A Venneri Racing (Alex Venneri) and the Majorie Dye Revocable Trust. All of the owners are from the Los Angeles area.