11/27/2015 8:15PM

Midnight Storm gets stellar ride to end losing streak in Seabiscuit Handicap

Benoit Photo
Midnight Storm wins the Seabiscuit Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths Friday at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Victor Espinoza makes a good dance partner. Maybe not the very best on “Dancing with the Stars,” where his mirthful run lasted just a handful of episodes, but certainly with Midnight Storm, with whom he tripped the light fantastic Saturday at Del Mar in the Grade 2, $250,000 Seabiscuit Handicap when riding the horse in a race for the first time.

Practice made perfect for Espinoza, who worked Midnight Storm at Santa Anita on Nov. 15. Midnight Storm usually is a runoff, but Espinoza said he gleaned a few tips in the workout, and they paid off Saturday. Espinoza was able to get him to sit behind another horse during a moderate pace, and when it was time to go, he and Midnight Storm danced right to the winner’s circle.

Midnight Storm ($9.60) inhaled leader Macro Access entering the lane and drew away for a 1 3/4-length victory over Bal a Bali, who ran on for second. Toowindytohaulrox was three-quarters of a length farther back in third, nosing out the 2-1 favorite Seek Again. Macro Access faded to fifth and was followed in order by Big Bane Theory, Alert Bay, Avanzare, and Abbey Vale.

Midnight Storm covered 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.70.

“He’s a little aggressive if you take too much of a hold of him,” said Espinoza. “I decided to let him break and then let him do what he wanted to do – a little, tiny hold. He was nice and relaxed on the first turn, traveling nice and kind.”

Midnight Storm’s trainer, Phil D’Amato, liked what he was seeing, with Midnight Storm 2 1/2 lengths behind Macro Access after a half-mile in 48.63 seconds.

“He was so comfortable on the backside I knew he’d have something when he pulled the trigger,” said D’Amato. “He looked like the Midnight Storm of old.”

The win – the fifth in 13 starts for Midnight Storm – ended a four-race losing streak. Midnight Storm now is 3 for 4 on the turf here, his biggest win having come in the Del Mar Derby in August 2014.

This past summer, Midnight Storm was fifth in the Eddie Read over a rain-softened course, then tried the Pacific Classic, in which he and Bayern ran each other into defeat. He finished sixth last time out in the Eddie D. Stakes on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita.

“He loves Del Mar, and he loves firm turf,” said D’Amato. “He didn’t get it in the Eddie Read. Then, he ran on dirt, which probably was a mistake. I’ll take the blame for that.”

Midnight Storm is a 4-year-old colt by Pioneerof the Nile, making him the second-best son of Pioneerof the Nile that Espinoza rode this year, behind American Pharoah.

He is owned by a partnership of Little Red Feather Racing and his breeders, Alex Venneri and Marjorie Dye.