04/12/2011 1:26PM

Kentucky Derby now in the picture for Espinoza

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Benoit & Associates
Victor Espinoza is all smiles aboard Midnight Interlude after their Santa Anita Derby victory.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Until 5:15 p.m. last Saturday, jockey Victor Espinoza was without a confirmed mount for the Kentucky Derby.

“I didn’t have one,” he said. “I was just hoping.”

Midnight Interlude changed that with his upset win in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby. Making his stakes debut, Midnight Interlude earned a place in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7 with a head victory over Comma to the Top.

“I was lucky for sure,” Espinoza said.

That quickly, Espinoza was on his way to the Kentucky Derby. Midnight Interlude will be a longshot in the Kentucky Derby, but that does not concern Espinoza. He has been in this situation before.

In 2002, Espinoza picked up the mount on the Illinois Derby winner, War Emblem, shortly after the colt was bought privately and turned over to trainer Bob Baffert in April of that year. War Emblem set the pace and won the Kentucky Derby in a 20-1 upset. He later won the Preakness Stakes, but missed out on the Triple Crown with an eighth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes. Espinoza was aboard for those wins, and later a victory in the Haskell Invitational. War Emblem was named the champion 3-year-old male of 2002.

“You have to just be ready,” Espinoza said of the buildup to the Triple Crown. “Anything can happen.”

Midnight Interlude is trained by Baffert for breeder Arnold Zetcher. A six-furlong workout in 1:10.60 on April 4 convinced Baffert to try the Santa Anita Derby. Espinoza rode Midnight Interlude for the first time in the Santa Anita Derby, taking over from Joel Rosario, who rode eventual fifth-place finisher Anthony’s Cross.

“I won a million-dollar race but I had to scramble to find a jockey,” Baffert said on Sunday.

Midnight Interlude has 2 wins in 4 starts. He was third in his debut in a six-furlong maiden race on Jan. 29, and was second on Feb. 26 before winning a one-mile race by 8 1/2 lengths on March 20. Espinoza, 38, is ready to take a chance with Midnight Interlude in a Kentucky Derby field that has a more open look and feel following the shocking third-place finish of Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last weekend.

“I think he can do very good,” Espinoza said of Midnight Interlude. “I think the distance will be better and he shouldn’t have any problem. He likes to play around, and he’s still learning. It will be a step forward for him.”

Setsuko, Quindici Man staying home

Setsuko and Quindici Man, second and third in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 5, were not sent to West Virginia earlier this week for Saturday’s $1 million Charles Town Classic after trainers Richard Mandella and Craig Lewis were notified their runners may not secure a berth in the 10-runner field.

The Charles Town Classic drew 89 nominees, with wins in graded or group races preferred in the event the race oversubscribed. Setsuko and Quindici Man have not won races at that level.

As of the weekend, Setsuko was considered the 10th and final eligible horse, with Quindici Man behind him. Mandella said he cancelled Setsuko’s trip after conversations with Charles Town officials.

“They said I was No. 11,” Mandella said. “Somebody called [to enter] another horse. We’re at home trying to figure out what to do.”

Mandella said his options include two races over 1 1/16 miles – the $300,000 Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 6 or the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 7.

Quindici Man will start in Sunday’s $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap over about 1 3/4 miles on turf, on the closing day of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

Quindici Man, who was assigned 117 pounds, has never run beyond 1 1/2 miles, finishing fifth over that distance in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Handicap on a synthetic track at Santa Anita in March 2010. Quindici Man was beaten just three-quarters of a length by Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap, and was closing well in the final furlong.

The distance and the surface of the San Juan Capistrano are questions for Lewis.

“He seemingly acts like he’ll do it, but it’s a long way to go and a different surface,” Lewis said. “It’s our best option. It’s a historic race and a beautiful race to watch.”

The Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano will be Quindici Man’s first start on turf since a third-place finish in the Brubaker Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar last summer.

Haimish Hy, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby last fall, is the 119-pound highweight, and is expected to face a field that will also include Juniper Pass, Buenos Dias, Dahoud, and Falcon Rock

* Dextera, a two-time stakes winner at Turf Paradise in 2009-10, was claimed for $8,000 in a five-way shake on Sunday and will be sent to Kentucky later this week to be bred, trainer Mike Machowsky said.Dextera will be bred to Latent Heat, who won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes here in 2006, Machowsky said.

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