06/04/2016 7:36PM

Midnight Storm gains elusive Grade 1 win in Shoemaker Mile

Benoit & Associates
Midnight Storm, racing in a Grade 1 stakes for the sixth time, wins the Shoemaker Mile under Rafael Bejarano.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Midnight Storm’s first five appearances in Grade 1 races ended in losses, ranging from a game second in the 2015 Shoemaker Mile to a last-place finish in the Pacific Classic last August.

There was no such disappointment in Saturday’s $400,345 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. Midnight Storm ($11.20) took command of the turf race shortly after the start and held off a stubborn rival in the Kentucky shipper Tourist to win the most prestigious race of his career.

The stakes were high. The Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile was part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program for the BC Mile, giving Midnight Storm a fees-paid berth for the race here on Nov. 5.

A move by winning jockey Rafael Bejarano shortly after the start was arguably the difference. Breaking from the outside in a field of six, Bejarano urged Midnight Storm to the lead and held a one-length advantage through the first half-mile, setting quick fractions of 22.68 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46 seconds for a half-mile.

Heart to Heart, the 4-5 favorite who won two Grade 3 stakes at Gulfstream Park earlier this year, was expected to set the pace, but did not challenge Midnight Storm early. Instead, jockey Julien Leparoux chose to give Heart to Heart a stalking trip, a decision that was fine with Bejarano.

“I knew [Heart to Heart] would try to go to the lead,” Bejarano said. “My horse can be tough and I didn’t want to fight. On the backstretch, I tried to get him to relax.”

Midnight Storm’s lead was reduced to a half-length on the turn when Heart to Heart moved closer. The threat was short-lived. Heart to Heart was passed by Tourist in early stretch.

Leparoux said his mount did not need the lead, and thought he would threaten Midnight Storm late.

“We had a good trip and he didn’t have anything left at the end,” Leparoux said.

Tourist, who was eighth in the 2015 BC Mile at Keeneland, was within a half-length of Midnight Storm with a furlong to go, but could not get any closer to the winner under jockey Jose Lezcano.

“The whole way around there he felt good,” Lezcano said. “I thought they were going fast. The horse on the lead never stopped.”

Midnight Storm won by a half-length in 1:33.55. Twentytwentyvision finished third, followed by Heart to Heart, Cape Wolfe, and Home Run Kitten.

Midnight Storm has won 6 of 16 starts for Alex Venneri and the Little Red Feather Racing partnership. Trained by Phil D’Amato, Midnight Storm has earned $831,110.

The Shoemaker Mile was Midnight Storm’s third stakes win. He won the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby in 2014 and the Grade 2 Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar last November. Midnight Storm was winless in two starts earlier this year, a troubled fourth after racing in traffic in the stretch of the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile here in March, and seventh in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 7.

D’Amato said that Midnight Storm struggled at Churchill Downs on a firm turf course that sustained rain earlier that afternoon.

That was far from conditions at Santa Anita on Saturday. Temperatures reached the mid-90s and the turf course was firm. Midnight Storm found the situation to his liking.