10/30/2008 11:00PM

Emphasis on conformation pays off with Midnight Lute

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – With an astonishing finish to win the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 1:07.08, Midnight Lute joined Tiznow, Miesque, Da Hoss, and Lure as repeat winners of a Breeders’ Cup event. This is a special distinction for Midnight Lute because he is the first two-time winner of the Sprint.

The breeding of Midnight Lute is a fascinating study in what can be accomplished with modest amounts of money – and plenty of luck.

The dark brown, nearly black, horse was bred by a trio who have emphasized quality over quantity in their breeding decisions. Tom Evans, Marjac Farms, and Macon Wilmil Equine bred Midnight Lute in Kentucky, where he was foaled and raised at the Trackside Farm of Evans and Pam Clark.

Marjac Farms is Rich and Patti Burke, who lived in Louisville when Midnight Lute was born and now live in Richmond, Va. Rich Burke manages Marjac Capital Partners, an investment company.

Macon Wilmil is Dr. Ted and Dora Forrest, who live in Louisville, and “Ted is a former college classmate of mine from Vanderbilt,” Evans said.

Evans also noted that “this ownership has two mares, and Trackside owns about eight mares singly or in partnership.”

That is not the volume of broodmares one typically associates with top-class success. So many things can happen to keep any particular horse from showing its best that most breeders try to have at least two or three dozen producers.

But in addition to Midnight Lute, Trackside has been co-breeder of English Group 1 winner Bahamian Pirate, Jim Dandy winner Strong Hope, and other good racers, as well as raising and selling numerous graded or group stakes winners for Foxfield, Liberation Farm, and other clients.

Evans described his thought process when purchasing the dam of Midnight Lute, the unraced Dehere mare Candytuft.

When buying for himself or others, Evans said, “I was use three criteria for selection: conformation, pedigree, and race record. I prioritize them in that order, and to find horses, begin sacrificing from the bottom. I was trying to find mares in our budget range to suit on conformation that also had enough pedigree to make them work in the sales.”

Candytuft didn’t have a race record, and she was the ninth foal out of a good stakes winner who had produced only one minor stakes-placed runner to that point. She was, however, good-looking enough to bring $55,000 while carrying her first foal on a cover to Alydeed at Keeneland November in 1999.

Midnight Lute is the mare’s fourth foal. Evans said that “sire selection was done based on budgetary concerns and physical compatibility. Real Quiet is a big, stretchy, athletic horse, who has a beautiful profile, and Candytuft is a solid, correct, attractive mare. And mating her with the Fappiano line, which typically puts stretch into foals like you see with the Unbridleds, worked out well with this mare.”

Following Midnight Lute, the breeders sent Candytuft to Gilded Time to produce the stakes-placed Tusculum Road, and they caught the brass ring when selling the mare’s yearling by Maria’s Mon at the September sale this year for $900,000.

Evans said that the owners had continued to use “big, stretchy, attractive horses as mates for Candytuft. She has an Empire Maker weanling colt and is in foal to Unbridled’s Song on a June 3 cover.”

Like the Empire Maker and the mare’s prospective foal for 2008, Midnight Lute was a May foal, but that doesn’t bother Evans.

He said, “One thing we’ve found with her foals is that they keep improving the older they get. You like them as foals, like them a little more as weanlings, and by the summer of their yearling season, you really like them. When you look at her sales history, there are a couple of really successful pinhooks, which tells you they keep getting better and better.”

The Empire Maker colt will be in a yearling sale next year. Evans said, “He is more similar to Midnight Lute than her other foals have been. He has that length to him, and you can see a lot of potential there. It will be fun watching him grow up.”

And the breeder has not ended his relationship with Midnight Lute, who has retired to stand at Hill n’ Dale for a $20,000 fee. Evans said, “I really like Midnight Lute as a stallion prospect, although I understand he’s not by the hottest sire around.”

Nor is Evans concerned with the breathing problem that compromised part of Midnight Lute’s career. He said, “I don’t believe it is a genetic issue at all. As a yearling he had a great throat, as well as when he was at the 2-year-old sales. I guess he had something go wrong during the summer of his 2-year-old season.”

But trainer Bob Baffert and owners Mike Pegram and Watson and Weitman Performances LLC persevered with their grand-looking horse and have been mightily rewarded.

So have the breeders, although they have reaped more intangible benefits.

Evans said, “It’s been an exciting run. We’ve been following this horse for four years, and we’ve had a lot of fun with it. We attended last year’s Breeders’ Cup, as well as this year’s. It was a good trip both times.”