09/02/2011 1:06PM

Del Mar Derby a big test for Midnight Interlude

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Benoit & Associates
Midnight Interlude, with Rafael Bejarano riding, wins the Tsunami Slew, his turf debut.

DEL MAR, Calif. – War Chant was good enough in the spring of his 3-year-old year to win the San Rafael Stakes and finish second in the Santa Anita Derby, earning him a start in the Kentucky Derby. But it was on the turf where War Chant shined best, winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Now, his son Midnight Interlude is trying to follow the same story arc. He won the Santa Anita Derby earlier this year, then ran unsuccessfully in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Since then, though, Midnight Interlude has moved to the turf, and has shown plenty of promise on that surface.

His biggest grass test to date comes on Sunday, when Midnight Interlude faces a deep field in the Grade 2, $250,000 Del Mar Derby. To prevail in the 1 1/8-mile turf race, Midnight Interlude will have to defeat the talented Midwest invader Banned, the rapidly improving Cloud Man, and three horses – Burns, Lil Bit O’Fun, and Thirtyfirststreet – who finished in front of him three weeks ago in the La Jolla Handicap, a race in which Midnight Interlude was blocked in the stretch run.

“That’s part of turf racing,” Bob Baffert, the trainer of Midnight Interlude, said Friday morning. “You gotta have the horse, and you gotta have the luck.

“He was in a tight situation there. He’s doing great. He should run well.”

Midnight Interlude has raced twice on turf. In his first grass race, he captured the Tsunami Slew Stakes during Hollywood Park’s meeting less than a month after his poor try in the Preakness.

More than anything, Baffert said he fears Banned, who won a pair of stakes earlier this year at Churchill Downs before finishing a close second in the Virginia Derby at Colonial and then third in the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington.

“Banned, I didn’t think he’d come,” Baffert said. “He might be a standout.”

Banned certainly has been keeping the best company of late, and he has won half of his eight starts on turf. Two of those victories were achieved with jockey Garrett Gomez, who is back aboard Sunday.

Tom Proctor, who trains Banned, also sends out Lil Bit O’Fun, who closed sharply to finish second in the La Jolla.

A former Proctor trainee, Extensive, will be making his first start for trainer Vladimir Cerin after being claimed for $80,000 out of a winning effort on Aug. 14. Before that, Extensive had finished third in the Oceanside Stakes on opening day.

Cloud Man is making his first start in a stakes race after a powerful victory against a first-level allowance field here on July 22. That followed a pair of heartbreaking losses in allowance races at Hollywood Park, once against Burns, who came back to finish second in the Oceanside before winning the La Jolla.

“I thought his last race was excellent. It’s why he’s in the Derby,” John Shirreffs, the trainer of Cloud Man, said Friday morning. “He’s always shown a lot of ability. He lost a couple of close races. When Burns won the La Jolla, that validated his effort.”

Joe Talamo is sticking with Cloud Man after having also ridden Dreamy Kid and Akkadian in their last starts.

Dreamy Kid, the upset winner of the Swaps Stakes, is moving to the turf for the first time after finishing seventh in the West Virginia Derby. His trainer, Neil Drysdale, knows how to have a horse make that transition. He did it with War Chant.