Trainer Bob Baffert knows a good filly when he sees one. Baffert also knows the Sunland Park Oaks. Winning five of the last seven editions of New Mexico's premier three-year-old filly race tends to do that for you. As successful as the trainer has been in the race, 2013 may be something just a little bit different. Anyone who witnessed Midnight Lucky prancing down the Sunland stretch yesterday knows that the daughter of Midnight Lute is on her way to becoming something very special.
There has been much talk about Midnight Lucky ever since her eye-popping debut last month. A seven length winner of the 6 1/2 furlong maiden race at Santa Anita Park for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, she was sent off as the overwhelming 3-10 favorite in yesterday's field of eight. Midnight Lucky was fully expected to handle the step up in distance, and in class, in only her second lifetime start. She exceeded those expectations.
Able to gain a forward position right from the get-go, Midnight Lucky pressured the early leader, and second choice, Majestic River from second. Keeping Majestic River close through a half mile in :46.44, rider, Rafael Bejarano needed to give little in the way of encouragement as the pair took over after six furlongs in 1:09.95. Switching to the inside for the run down the lane, Midnight Lucky began to show her immense talent. Pulling away from the field with each stride, all Bejarano had to do was hold on. Midnight Lucky made the $200,000 stakes race look like little more than a morning gallop. On the wire, the pretty gray filly was eight lengths ahead of Unusual Way, who grabbed second in the strung out field.
Despite the effortless nature of the victory, Midnight Lucky broke the Sunland Park track record for the 1 1/16 miles, with a final time of 1:41.06. Granted the track was playing extremely quick yesterday, but one has to wonder just how fast this burgeoning superstar will be able to run with both a little more experience, and a little more effort.
It turned out to be a big day for not only Pegram and Baffert, but also for sire Midnight Lute, as one race later on the card the trio teamed up once again to win the Sunland Derby with the lightly raced Govenor Charlie.
The Derby may have been the headliner of the card on paper, but the colts ended up being overshadowed by the filly running one of the more visually impressive races so far in 2013. In fact, the $220,000 purchase as a yearling, out of the Citidancer mare Citiview, could not have been more impressive in her first two starts. The Sunland Park Oaks was worth 50 qualifying
points towards a spot in the Kentucky Oaks starting gate on May 3, so it is very likely we will see a filly with only two lifetime starts go off as the favorite in one of the most important female races in the nation.
From a historical perspective, it would seem that winning such an important test in only the third race of her career would present a monumental task, but after watching her first two races, it might be all the other three-year-old fillies who will be up against things on Oaks Day.