04/28/2013 1:14PM

Kentucky Oaks: Midnight Lucky gives Baffert a serious threat to favorites

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Barbara D. Livingston
Midnight Lucky, with Dana Barnes aboard, sizzled the final quarter-mile of her five-furlong workout Sunday in 22.68 seconds.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Though it is becoming increasingly likely trainer Bob Baffert won’t have a runner in this year’s Kentucky Derby, there is no doubt he has a serious one in Friday’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks.

On an otherwise quiet Sunday morning at Churchill Downs, Midnight Lucky had observers in awe with a sensational five-furlong workout over the main track.

Working in company with the 3-year-old colt Code West, Midnight Lucky breezed five furlongs in 59.04 seconds with exercise rider Dana Barnes never moving her hands. Breaking about four lengths behind Code West from the 4 1/2-furlong pole, Midnight Lucky went a quarter in 24.42 seconds and three furlongs in 36.36 seconds, meaning she got her final quarter in 22.68 seconds. She finished about a half-length in front of Code West and galloped out six furlongs in 1:11.92.

The move was done following the renovation break. Before the break, the track was rated good. With dry weather prevailing, the track would have been considered fast after the break.

“She's so much fun,” said Barnes, longtime exercise rider for Baffert. “That's what's so much fun, when you feel that acceleration. You feel like you're loping along, but you're rolling by everybody.”

Given the depth of this Oaks field and Midnight Lucky’s lack of experience - she has only raced twice - Baffert said he was looking for a strong move from her on Sunday.

“She's always worked well. She's an exceptional filly,” said Baffert, who has won the Oaks with Silverbulletday (1999) and Plum Pretty (2011). “She worked really well. She had to work well, like that, to throw her in with the wolves. It's probably the toughest Oaks I've ever seen. They should give the Eclipse after the race."

Midnight Lucky was blowing pretty hard coming off the track. As she was being bathed, she was a little irritated by some dirt in her eye, which became red, but assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes wiped the dirt away with a towel.

As strongly as Midnight Lucky breezed, Baffert wasn’t ready to make any bold predictions given the depth of the Oaks field.

Among the 11 fillies expected to be entered on Tuesday are Beholder, last year’s 2-year-old champion filly and recent winner of the Santa Anita Oaks; Dreaming of Julia, the 21 3/4-length winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks; Unlimited Budget, the undefeated winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks, and Close Hatches, undefeated winner of the Grade 2 Gazelle.

Also, Princess of Sylmar, who finished second in the Gazelle after winning four consecutive races, was confirmed as a starter for the Oaks by trainer Todd Pletcher on Sunday. Mike Smith has picked up that mount.

 “She has shown brilliance,” Baffert said of Midnight Lucky. “But there are a lot of fillies in there that have shown brilliance; [Dreaming of Julia] last time showed brilliance, Beholder. The pace is going to be the whole key.”

Shortly after Midnight Lucky breezed, Close Hatches worked four furlongs by herself in 47.51 seconds. She went her first quarter in 23.02 seconds and galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.73.

“She was super,” trainer Bill Mott said.

Midnight Lucky has made only two starts and Close Hatches has made three, making them the two fillies with the least experience in this deep field.

“It would take a special horse to overcome a lack of experience,” Mott said. “We’re taking our chance. It’s definitely a challenge; that adds a little more to it.”

* Believe You Can, last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 Sunday at Churchill. She is being pointed to Friday’s Grade 2, $300,000 La Troienne Stakes.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman and Mike Welsch