10/29/2007 12:00AM

Midnight Lute's not finished yet

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. - Midnight Lute, whose exhilarating last-to-first victory in the Sprint was one of the most memorable performances on Saturday's Breeders' Cup card at Monmouth Park, will be back again in 2008 - although his ultimate goal next year might not be to defend his title in the Sprint.

Trainer Bob Baffert confirmed Monday that Midnight Lute will race again next year. He also said he might even run once more this season. And while Midnight Lute is the overwhelming favorite to win the Eclipse Award as the nation's premier sprinter in 2007, Baffert said pointing him for the 2008 BC Classic would not be out of the question.

"He'll definitely run next year," Baffert said on Monday. "We'll play it by ear regarding one more possible start this season. We'll let him tell us. The only realistic spot would be the Cigar Mile."

Although Midnight Lute won the six-furlong Sprint by nearly five lengths, he may be at his best at longer distances. The son of Real Quiet posted his first Grade 1 victory at Saratoga in the seven-furlong Forego. He was also second, beaten a nose by Awesome Gem, going 1 1/16 miles in his 2007 debut in the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes and third three weeks later in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 Strub.

"When I first got him I thought he would be my Kentucky Derby horse in 2006," said Baffert, who purchased Midnight Lute for $300,000 as a 2-year-old for owners Paul Weitman, Carl Watson, and Mike Pegram. "Then he came up with throat issues and we were forced to stop on him."

Midnight Lute underwent tie-back surgery three times to solve breathing problems.

Baffert said Midnight Lute couldn't have trained better than he did for the Sprint.

"I've never had a horse work for a race like he did," said Baffert. "He's just a really talented horse, and fortunately he got to prove it on the right day."

Baffert wasn't so sure that was going to happen after jockey Garrett Gomez was forced to steady Midnight Lute when bumped and pinched back leaving the gate for the Sprint. Midnight Lute raced nearly a dozen lengths off the pace of Talent Search in the run down the backstretch, angled out to commence his rally midway around the turn, and - after fanning six wide turning for home - exploded down the middle of the sloppy track to run down Idiot Proof and win going away.

"When he got away bad and was pinched off I thought, 'Oh boy, we could be in trouble,'" said Baffert. "But Garrett rode him with confidence and just let him get his feet under him and settle into his groove.

"At the quarter pole, when he came out for clearance and I saw he was getting into another gear, I knew we were going to see something awesome. And when he made the lead he kind of threw his ears up just like his daddy, Real Quiet."

Baffert said he thought Midnight Lute's performance on Saturday was even better than his victory in the Forego, despite the fact he received only a 108 Beyer Speed Figure for the Sprint and a 124, the highest number awarded any horse in 2007, for the Forego.

"Considering the nature of the track, which was changing all afternoon, and the trip he had I felt this was a much better performance than the Forego," Baffert said. "He's just an amazing horse and I believe one of the two best horses on the grounds on Saturday, along with Curlin."

Jockey David Flores, who rode runner-up Idiot Proof, believed he had the race won at midstretch.

"I tried to lock it up at the top of the stretch, and when we pulled away I thought we were home free," said Flores. "That other horse just came out of nowhere."

Among the biggest disappointments in the Sprint was Smokey Stover who went off as the second betting choice at 7-2 behind the 5-2 favorite Midnight Lute. But Smokey Stover never appeared to level off over the sloppy track and finished ninth.

"I knew he was in trouble when I saw my jockey riding him down the backside like he normally would be on the front side - just to keep position," said trainer Greg Gilchrist. "But we all had to run over the same track, and I have to take my hat off to the winner. He ran a great race."