03/28/2013 8:28AM

DRF Breeding Hot Sire of the Week: Midnight Lute

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Midnight Lute conformationPhoto courtesy of Hill 'n' Dale FarmsMidnight Lute

Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms stallion Midnight Lute might have made his name on the racetrack as a top sprinter, but his first crop is swiftly remaking his reputation this spring as one of the most promising young sires of middle-distance runners in North America.

Six weeks ago, 3-year-olds Govenor Charlie and Midnight Lucky both broke their maidens in impressive fashion at Santa Anita during the same weekend Shakin It Up provided Midnight Lute with his first graded stakes winner as a sire.

Last weekend at Sunland Park, Govenor Charlie and Midnight Lucky all but stamped their tickets to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, respectively, with dominant performances in two-turn races. Govenor Charlie drew clear at the quarter pole and powered to a five-length win in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, covering 1 1/8 miles in a track-record 1:47.54 and earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure.

Midnight Lucky entered the Sunland Park Oaks as one of the most talked-about horses in the country following her smashing debut win in February, in which she earned a 100 Beyer, and the filly left New Mexico with even more hype after she obliterated the competition in an eight-length romp. Midnight Lucky traveled 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.06, good for a 94 Beyer and another track record (one of three set March 24 on Sunland’s speed-favoring oval).

Both 3-year-olds earned 50 points on the Road to the Derby and Oaks standings. If both Govenor Charlie and Midnight Lucky make the trip to Churchill Downs, they will bring the longtime owner-trainer partnership of Mike Pegram and Bob Baffert back to the site of some of their most cherished memories, starting with Real Quiet’s Kentucky Derby in 1998.

Pegram bred and owns Govenor Charlie, while Midnight Lucky was bred in Kentucky by Dr. Charles Kidder, J. K. Griggs, and Linda Griggs. Pegram owns the filly with Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, comprising the triumvirate that has struck Grade 1 gold in recent years with Lookin At Lucky, Coil, Drill, and Executiveprivilege.

Midnight Lute, a strapping son of Real Quiet out of the unraced Dehere mare Candytuft, was the first top-of-the-line horse campaigned by the partnership of Pegram, Watson, Weitman, and Baffert, and as a juvenile he won first out in the summer of 2005 at Del Mar. The colt did not race again for a year, however, as respiratory problems developed that would stall his career more than once and cause him to miss the Triple Crown season.

Once back in training, Midnight Lute began to fulfill his potential during 2006 and early 2007, winning a Grade 3 event at seven furlongs and competing well in longer-distance graded stakes in California in January and February of 2007. He suffered another health-related delay during early summer, but when he returned Midnight Lute was at the top of his game. He dominated both the Forego Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint that fall, earning the Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.

In 2008, Midnight Lute raced only twice as a 5-year-old, but did annex a second consecutive Breeders’ Cup Sprint before retiring to stud at Hill ‘n’ Dale in Lexington, Ky. Baffert said upon Midnight Lute’s retirement that the horse was the best he’d ever trained, and those who follow the popular conditioner’s @Midnightlute Twitter account are reminded of that every time they receive a message from Baffert.

Midnight Lute stood for $20,000 in his initial season at Hill ‘n’ Dale, and according to farm President John G. Sikura, he has been popular from the outset. Baffert said in February after Shakin It Up’s win in the San Vicente that he always felt Midnight Lute was at his core a longer-distance horse who, due to low lung capacity, was restricted to sprint races, and Sikura echoed that opinion when discussing his potential as a stallion.

“[Midnight Lute’s reputation] is really a misnomer because the horse is not a sprinter, he was backed up after throat surgery,” Sikura said. “He was backed up to be a sprinter; it was an adaptation. The horse’s true aptitude, I believe, is a mile and a quarter, I think that’s what he would have been best at. He was just a big, freaky racehorse that could adapt and do anything.

“We actually thought that his foals would not be early [maturing], that they would not emerge as 2-year-olds, that they would train on and get two turns,” he added. “That’s where the money is, that’s what the [majority of] Grade 1s are … in the long run, quality is about two turns and about getting a trip, and I believe these ones will do both.”

Midnight Lute covered 115 mares in 2012, and Sikura said that a similar number will easily be reached this year at what is now a bargain fee of $15,000. Pegram’s broodmare band is boarded at Hill ‘n’ Dale, and for Govenor Charlie and Shakin It Up (who finished fourth in the Sunland Derby), their development into stakes winners has truly been a case of keeping it in the family. Both are out of daughters of Silverbulletday, Pegram’s sensational dual champion from the late 1990s that joined trainer Baffert as a Racing Hall of Fame inductee in 2009. Govenor Charlie is out of the unraced Storm Cat mare Silverbulletway, who is also the dam of stakes winner Crisis of Spirit, and Shakin It Up is the second winning foal out of the unraced Vindication mare Silver Bullet Moon.

Midnight Lucky, who may train up to the Kentucky Oaks on May 3, is the fourth winning foal out of the Citidancer mare Citiview. Citiview is a full sister to Hookedonthefeelin, whom Pegram purchased for $110,000 at the 1997 Keeneland September yearling sale. Hookedonthefeelin was the winner of five stakes, including the Grade 1 La Brea. As a broodmare, Hookedonthefeelin has produced Pussycat Doll, a Real Quiet three-time Grade 1 winner for Pegram and Baffert during the mid-2000s, as well as Grade 1 winner Jimmy Creed and stakes winner Funny Feeling.

Given those connections, it was no surprise when Pegram purchased Midnight Lucky for $220,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale. A year and a half later, the filly has displayed a breathtaking degree of raw talent in only two races that may, in the end, make her the best of what is shaping up to be a very good, and possibly great, first crop for Midnight Lute.

Her continued development, along with that of Govenor Charlie, Shakin It Up, and several other up-and-comers, such as stakes winner Midnight Ballet, sharp Oaklawn winner Big Lute, and Fair Grounds-based Mylute, will only enhance Midnight Lute’s stature in the coming months. Mylute finished a game second to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby on March 30, and could be yet another member of Midnight Lute's first-crop brigade to resurface at Churchill Downs in five weeks.

His yearling average took a dip last year, which is not uncommon in this era as stallions move beyond their first crop at auction, but Midnight Lute was represented by a $230,000 juvenile at the recent Barretts March selected two-year-olds in training sale. Sikura is optimistic about the yearling auctions this summer, which may, based on recent evidence, come on the heels of several more graded stakes wins by Midnight Lute runners.

“There’s a lot of prospects out there, and we’re excited, and we’re sure that there’s many more in the wings,” Sikura said. “The more they win, and the more important fixtures that come under Midnight Lute’s banner, the more his yearlings will bring. ... If he has a Derby winner, or an Oaks winner, or a Travers winner, certainly they’re more appreciated in the auction ring.”