07/17/2016 10:30PM

Midnight Storm takes Eddie Read Stakes, keeps graded grass streak alive

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Benoit & Associates
Midnight Storm, right, with Rafael Bejarano up, outlegs Ashleyluvssugar, left, and Si Sage, inside, to win the Eddie Read Stakes on Sunday.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Midnight Storm was hounded early by Bolo, challenged late from all sides by Ashleyluvssugar, Flamboyant, and Si Sage, but never relinquished the lead and bravely earned a deserved victory on Sunday in the Grade 2 $251,380 Eddie Read Stakes, marking the third straight year he has won a graded grass race at Del Mar.

Midnight Storm, now 5, won the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby at age 3, and last year won the Grade 2 Seabiscuit. His connections have tried him at distances ranging from 6 1/2 furlongs on turf to 1 1/4 miles on dirt, but it’s clear anything from a mile to 1 1/8 miles on turf is in his wheelhouse. The Read, at 1 1/8 miles, came on the heels of his first Grade 1 victory, last time out in the Shoemaker Mile.

Trainer Phil D’Amato originally was planning on skipping the Read, but Midnight Storm was so sharp following the June 4 Shoemaker Mile that he put him in the Read. That sharpness showed, as Midnight Storm would not be denied.

With Rafael Bejarano aboard, Midnight Storm ($5.40) staved off Ashleyluvssugar to win by a half-length, with Flamboyant a neck farther back in third and Si Sage another head away in fourth. Finnegans Wake was fifth and was followed, in order, by Patentar, Texas Ryano, Ohio, and Bolo.

It was Bolo who was closest to Midnight Storm early, through fractions of 23.82 seconds for the quarter, 48.03 seconds for a half, and 1:12.18 for six furlongs. As soon as Midnight Storm put away Bolo, he was tackled by several fresh rivals, but was resolute, covering the final three furlongs in 35.70 seconds to complete 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:47.88.

“Rafael saved just enough,” D’Amato said. “Bolo was on him the whole time. He wasn’t getting any breathers.

“When he gets good he gets really good. He’s just now coming into his own.”

Midnight Storm, by Pioneerof the Nile, has now won seven times in 17 starts, and is 4 for 5 on Del Mar’s turf. He prefers firm turf, so there is a chance he could run again next month in the Del Mar Mile, or await the fall meet at Santa Anita, where his year-end goal is the Breeders’ Cup Mile on turf, D’Amato said.

“That’s our ultimate goal. We’ll see if he needs one more to get there,” D’Amato said.

Midnight Storm is owned by his breeders, Alex Venneri and Marjorie Post Dye, as well as the Little Red Feather Racing partnership.

“Big daddy had to fight for that,” said Little Red Feather’s Billy Koch, whose voice was hoarse from cheering.

The $150,000 winner’s share brought Midnight Storm’s career earnings to $981,110.