08/11/2011 1:21PM

Del Mar: Midnight Interlude auditions for Del Mar Derby in La Jolla


DEL MAR, Calif. – Midnight Interlude has won two stakes this year – the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in April, at the height of the Triple Crown build-up, and the $72,050 Tsunami Slew Stakes on the turf at Hollywood Park in June. The expectations of owner Arnold Zetcher and trainer Bob Baffert following the Santa Anita Derby and now, after the Tsunami Slew, could not be more different.

Midnight Interlude finished 16th as a 9-1 shot in the Kentucky Derby, his first start after the career-defining win in the Santa Anita Derby, and then 13th in the Preakness. Midnight Interlude returned as a turf horse in the Tsunami Slew Stakes, and he makes his first graded stakes appearance on turf in the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on Saturday at Del Mar.

The Tsunami Slew Stakes may not register on the list of nationally important races, but the result was a relief to Zetcher, who was happy to see Midnight Interlude liked turf.

“He’s been working great,” Zetcher said. “He should be ready.

“I think in his future, anything is open. Right now, grass is the way to go.”

The La Jolla could lead to a start in the $250,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 4 for Midnight Interlude.

With recent Oceanside Stakes winner Mr. Commons sidelined by a bruised foot, Midnight Interlude will be favored in the Grade 2 La Jolla. He has drawn the outside post in a solid field of seven that includes the stakes winners Lil Bit O’Fun, Surrey Star, and Thirtyfirststreet, along with Burns, Fort Hastings, and Temple’s Door, who are stakes placed.

They will provide Midnight Interlude with a stern test.

“As long as he doesn’t run like he did in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, we’ll be okay,” Baffert said.

Midnight Interlude will be near the front, probably stalking Thirtyfirststreet, who won the Lone Star Derby on turf in May, but was 10th of 12 in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs on July 16.

Surrey Star, the winner of the La Puente Stakes at Santa Anita in April and the runner-up in the Tsunami Slew, and Temple’s Door, third in the Tsunami Slew, are dangers from just off the pace. Temple’s Door was last of nine in the Oceanside after encountering trouble on the first turn of the one-mile race.

The well-traveled Lil Bit O’Fun starts on his sixth different turf course in as many races. Trained by Tom Proctor, Lil Bit O’Fun won the Oliver Stakes at Indiana Downs in June but was last of 10 in the Grade 2 American Derby at Arlington Park on July 9.

The deep closer to follow is Burns, who was a clear second to Mr. Commons in the Oceanside Stakes. The longer distance of the La Jolla will suit the California-bred Burns, breeder and co-owner Madeline Auerbach said. She said the presence of Patrick Valenzuela on Burns is an asset.

“The beauty of having Patrick ride the horse is there is no one who can make a better mid-race adjustment,” Auerbach said.