01/20/2014 12:07PM

Sparkman: Change in breeders' attitudes reflected, from Ormonde to Midnight Lute

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Midnight Lute was a two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Breeders’ attitudes toward horses with the congenital throat malady that leads to partial paralysis of the larynx have changed markedly since the 19th century.

In 1889, the Duke of Westminster, the owner and breeder of Ormonde, the greatest English racehorse of the 19th century, sold his champion to Argentina after only two seasons at stud because the horse was “a roarer and a descendant of roarers,” and he did not want to contaminate the English Thoroughbred.

Until the last few decades, American breeders also tended to avoid horses afflicted with the genetic abnormality that causes laryngeal hemiplegia. For example, 1956 Horse of the Year Swaps’s sire, Khaled, was a roarer, and though Swaps himself did not inherit the malady, his best son, 1963 Kentucky Derby winner Chateaugay, made a distinct noise, and his stud career suffered accordingly.

Sheer genetic dominance, however, allowed Storm Cat to become a leading sire despite sometimes passing along bad throats. Though most breeders prefer to breed to stallions of sound wind, if the horse is good enough, he will usually get plenty of mares.

Dual Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and 2007 champion sprinter Midnight Lute certainly was good enough, despite his three throat operations, and he has proven with his first two crops that, like Storm Cat, the possibility that he will pass on his disability might not negatively affect his stud career.

Midnight Lute’s second-crop son Midnight Hawk became his ninth stakes winner on Jan. 11 when winning the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, just two weeks after Midnight Lute’s first-crop son Shakin It Up became his second Grade 1 winner in taking the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26.

Bred in Kentucky by Tom Evans, Macon Wilmil Equine, and Marjac Farm, Midnight Lute was easily the best son of 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner and champion 3-year-old male Real Quiet, by Quiet American.

Sold for $70,000 to agent Tom McGreevey in the name of Caldera Racing at the 2004 Keeneland September yearling sale, Midnight Lute failed to find a buyer on a final bid of $290,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March juvenile sale after working a quarter-mile in 22 seconds.

Sold privately to Michael Pegram and Watson and Weitman Performances, Midnight Lute won his only start at 2, running six furlongs at Del Mar in 1:10.43 to score easily. He underwent throat surgery following that win, but according to trainer Bob Baffert, the first operation did not hold, and Midnight Lute was operated on again during in the spring of 2006.

He returned after a year’s absence in a six-furlong allowance race at Del Mar in July but failed to catch Sailors Sunset, falling short by a diminishing half-length. He won a seven-furlong allowance at Del Mar a few weeks later, and then shipped to Keeneland and recorded a 4 3/4-length win over eventual multiple graded stakes winner Lewis Michael in the seven-furlong, Grade 3 Perryville Stakes.

Midnight Lute clearly was a pretty good horse, but he couldn’t catch Latent Heat and Spring At Last in the Grade 1 Malibu, and failed by a nose to catch eventual Grade 1 winner Awesome Gem in the Grade 2 San Fernando to kick off his 4-year-old campaign.

After finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Strub at Santa Anita in February 2007 and in the Grade 2 Commonwealth at Keene-land in April, Midnight Lute underwent a third throat operation before returning to win the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga, beating Benny the Bull by 2 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:21.06 for seven furlongs.

The 2007 Breeders’ Cup Sprint was run in ridiculously sloppy conditions at speed-favoring Monmouth, but Midnight Lute reveled in that environment, rallying from well off the pace to beat Idiot Proof by 4 3/4 lengths in a highly impressive performance. He ran once more that year but failed to catch Daaher in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, finishing second.

Midnight Lute’s two Grade 1 sprint wins, though, were enough to guarantee him an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter of 2007.

Midnight Lute ran only twice as a 5-year-old in 2008, failing to rally for the only time in his career behind Lewis Michael in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar in August before repeating his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita.

Retired to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms in Lexington, Ky., in 2009, Midnight Lute offered breeders an intriguing puzzle. Clearly a racehorse of the highest class, he stands a massive 17 hands but with the balance and athleticism of a much smaller horse. Though he never won beyond seven furlongs, he clearly stayed at least 1 1/16 miles, since he was beaten only a nose in a Grade 2 race at that distance, and his pedigree and his trainer both suggested that the only reason he performed best as a sprinter was because his throat problems limited his stamina.

He came by his enormous stature honestly. His sire, Real Quiet, was a tall but narrow horse, and his third dam, Berkut, by Sea-Bird, was a full sister to the gigantic Group 1-caliber Gyr, whom the venerable English annual Timeform regarded as one of the largest horses in its experience. Their broodmare sire, Toulouse Lautrec, also was a gigantic horse who enjoyed some sire success in the 1960s in California.

Berkut produced French Group 1 winner Alydar’s Best, Italian stakes winner Exotic Source, and Midnight Lute’s second dam, Grade 3 La Prevoyante Stakes winner Bolt From the Blue, by Blue Times.

Not surprisingly, given Midnight Lute’s stature, the 111 named foals in his first crop did not set the world afire early at 2, but Midnight Ballet (out of Buzz Song, by Unbridled’s Song) became his first stakes winner at Hollywood Park’s fall meeting in 2012, and five others showed promise by placing in stakes.

When the calendar turned to 2013, Midnight Lute became a very hot property, as Shakin It Up (Silver Bullet Moon, by Vindication) won the Grade 2 San Vicente, Midnight Lucky (Citiview, by Citidancer) set a track record in the Sunland Park Oaks, and Govenor Charlie (Silverbulletway, by Storm Cat) set a track record in the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby.

Midnight Lucky proved she was one of the most talented 3-year-old fillies in the country with a smashing victory in the Grade 1 Acorn but has not run since. Shakin It Up returned from a long layoff to win the Grade 1 Malibu before the end of the year.

Two other high-class Midnight Lute colts emerged when Midnight Aria (Shebandowana, by Mt. Magazine) captured Canada’s Queen’s Plate and Mylute (Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations) ran second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and third in the Preakness.

Midnight Hawk is the third stakes winner and first potentially high-class runner from Midnight Lute’s second crop. Bred in Kentucky by Pegram, he is the 10th foal and second stakes winner out of Miss Wineshine, a talented Wolf Power filly Pegram purchased for $220,000 at the 1998 Keeneland September sale.

Miss Wineshine raced five times at 2 in 1999, winning the Silver Spur Stakes at Lone Star, running second to her eventual champion stablemate Chilukki in the Grade 3 Debutante, second to Regally Appealing in the Grade 2 Adirondack, and third in the Grade 1 Spinaway.

Miss Wineshine’s fifth foal, Mayor Marv, by Distorted Humor, won the Turf Paradise Derby, but Midnight Hawk is the only graded stakes winner in the first four generations of his pedigree along the female line. He is a complete outcross through the first six generations of his pedigree.

Although Ormonde became almost sterile due to an illness during his second season at stud, the Duke of Westminster’s fears about the horse proved groundless. His first-crop son Orme (out of the immortal St. Simon’s full sister Angelica) was England’s champion 2-year-old of 1891, winning the Middle Park and Dewhurst stakes, and added two Eclipse Stakes and a Champion Stakes to his record at 3 and 4.

Orme led England’s sire list in 1899, when his great son Flying Fox won the English Triple Crown, and Orby became his second Epsom Derby winner in 1907. Both established long-lived branches of the Ormonde male line. Flying Fox was the grandsire of the great Teddy, whose line still hangs on in South America through his seventh-generation descendants Privately Held and Public Purse, both sons of Private Account.

The great sprinting line descending from Orby’s great-grandson Gold Bridge, however, has died out. Midnight Lute has 29 crosses of Teddy in the first 12 generations of his pedigree.

It is always doubtful, of course, that any stallion will establish a long-lasting male line, but despite his respiratory weakness, Midnight Lute has proven that he is capable of siring horses good enough to give himself that chance.