As rain fell from the sky, the dirt track at Monmouth Park was transformed into an
oval of mud soup for the 2007 Breeders’ Cup. The dismal weather certainly put a
damper on the crowd but no matter how gloomy the weather was, it could not hinder
the thrill of the world-class racing taking place at the New Jersey racetrack.
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
At the conclusion of the first championship race to be run on that Breeders’
Cup Saturday, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert could have left with a smile on
his face, as he had captured the Juvenile Fillies with Indian Blessing. But he had not finished. A few races later, he
saddled the favorite for the Sprint, Midnight Lute. The 17 hands high beast, who had last won the Forego Stakes (gr. I)
at Saratoga, had always been a special horse in the eyes of Baffert, but this
race would prove just how exceptional he was.
Midnight Lute exited the gate in a slow manner, racing near the rear of the
field as the Thoroughbreds splashed through the mud. Mud sprayed Midnight
Lute’s face, splattering his near-black coat as he
raced nearly nine lengths off the leader down the backstretch. Gradually, Midnight Lute began to make up ground as the horses made their way
into the far turn. Advancing along the inside around the curve, Garrett Gomez
was forced to swing his mount to the outside when Midnight Lute’s massive frame
could not fit through an opening on the rail.
As a torrent of mud flying from the hooves of his rivals flew into Midnight
Lute’s face, disguising him as he rallied along the outside, the son of Real
Quiet kicked into a gear no competitor could match. Accelerating in
breathtaking fashion, Midnight Lute surpassed his rivals as if they were
standing still. With stunning ease, he drew away to score by 4 ¾ lengths – the
largest margin of victory in the history of the race.
After a runner-up effort in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) a month later, Midnight
Lute was honored as the Eclipse Champion Male Sprinter of 2007. He was prepared
to make his 2008 debut in the Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II), but after
skipping that race, he was readied for the San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) a month
later. Instead, a minor hock injury kept Midnight Lute away from the races
until August, when he returned in the Pat O’Brien Handicap (gr. I) at Del Mar.
But when Midnight Lute finished a very disappointing tenth as the heavy
favorite in the Pat O’Brien, it appeared as if the brilliant sprinter that had
captured the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in such a spectacular manner the previous
year was a horse of the past. However, it was revealed that Midnight Lute had
grabbed a quarter at the start of the race and the horse was nonetheless
prepared for a defense of his Breeders’ Cup Sprint title.
Baffert, who removed Midnight Lute’s blinkers following the Pat O’Brien,
remained confident in the horse he had always thought so highly of. But not
only would Midnight Lute have to return to form in order to win his second
consecutive Sprint, history was racing against him as well. No horse had ever
won the Sprint twice and seven winners had attempted the same feat without
Facing seven opponents in his second Sprint, Midnight Lute had home track
advantage, competing over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface – over which, although
he had never won, he had never finished worse than fourth. In similar fashion
as the previous year, Midnight Lute departed the starting gate rather
sluggishly, trailing the field as the horses galloped from the chute and into
Racing several paths off the rail, Midnight Lute began to make his move as the
sprinters approached the far turn. Staying to the outside, the large horse
quickened his pace as he went widest of all around the final bend. Using his
impressively long strides, Midnight Lute advanced rapidly on the outside as he
set his sights on the front. Displaying the same remarkable turn of foot he had
at Monmouth Park, Midnight Lute engulfed his adversaries as he kicked clear to
win by 1 ¾. In electrifying style, Midnight Lute had not only completed the
fastest ever Breeders’ Cup Sprint, posting a final time of 1:07.08, but the
magnificent horse had become the only horse to win the Sprint twice.
Perhaps the happiest person after Midnight Lute’s second consecutive Sprint
triumph was his trainer, Bob Baffert. One of the most recognizable figures in
racing, Baffert has trained his fair share of brilliant horses: Triple Crown
near-misses Point Given, Real Quiet,
Silver Charm, and War Emblem and Hall of Fame mare Silverbulletday among them. But after both
of Midnight Lute’s Sprint victories, a euphoric Baffert declared Midnight Lute
the best horse he has ever trained.
Midnight Lute – who has since become a fantastic sire, currently ranking second
among the leading second-crop sires of 2013 – achieved what no horse before him
was capable of accomplishing. Not only did he set three records in the
Breeders’ Cup Sprint, holding records for final time and winning margin, as
well as becoming the only horse to capture it twice, but he left an impression
on Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert that no other horse has. The story of
Midnight Lute is a tale of love and respect a trainer had for one special horse
that possessed rare and awe-inspiring brilliance, which carried him to a pair
of championship victories racing fans – and Baffert – won’t soon forget.