In a performance befitting the race’s namesake, the Bob
Baffert-trained Midnight Hawk stretched out to two turns in style,
winning Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Sham Stakes by 1 ¾ lengths under
Mike Smith, thus stamping himself as a leading contender for the Grade
I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 5.
With two scratches out of the Sham, the field was reduced to
four and 2-1 second choice Kristo, with Rafael Bejarano up, was sent to
the lead going into the Club House, but was engaged immediately by
Midnight Hawk, a 3-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by Midnight Lute who was
making only his second career start.
“It kind of turned into a match race today,” said Smith.
“Today, more so than winning, I wanted to find out if he could go
long…He proved he could. He’s still a bit green down the lane. When
the crowd screams…he thinks they’re yelling at him and he gets scared.
“It’s great to see a colt this talented with room to grow.
That’s what you want to have…There’s room to grow here and that’s really
something to look forward to. For such a big, heavy horse he just
floats over the ground.”
With no show wagering, Midnight Hawk, the prohibitive 2-5 favorite, paid $2.80 and $2.10.
Bred by Mike Pegram and owned by reigning Stanley Cup Champion
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, former Minnesota Vikings head
coach Mike Tice (who just inked a deal with the Atlanta Falcons as
their offensive line coach for the 2014 season), John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’
Dale Equine Holdings, Mike Kitchen and Pegram, Midnight Hawk picked up
$60,000 for the win and most importantly, 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying
“He was waiting a bit on horses but he came back, he didn’t look like
he was very tired,” said Baffert. “He wasn’t blowing very hard, so
that’s a good sign. It’s a good step. But that’s the way Midnight Lute
was. Midnight Hawk was ‘showing up’ in the mornings, but you don’t
know until you do it (in the afternoon)…So far, so good, but we’ll just
take baby steps as we go and just have fun with him.”
Trained by John Sadler, Kristo appeared well beaten at the rail
turning for home but battled back gamely when shifted to the outside by
Bejarno. He paid $2.20 to place.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said the burly 6’7” Tice, who played
tight end for the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and Minnesota
Vikings and dwarfed his fellow Winner’s Circle celebrants. “It’s nice
to be part of a winner. Anytime you win it’s exciting—In anything,
tiddlywinks, horse racing or football.”
“We think he can get better,” said Sadler of Kristo, who made
his fourth start in the Sham and had not run since an impressive maiden
win Oct. 31. “We think he wants to run farther. That’s not really the
style we wanted to run today, but when it came up sort of like a match
race, you’re drawn inside of the other guy, what are you going to do?
We had to run head to head all the way around, but he ran well.”
Bejarano tipped his cap to the winner. “The winner was much too fast. He lost ground on both turns and still beat me.”
Kristo finished 3 ¼ lengths in front of 10-1 shot Ontology, ridden by
Mario Gutierrez, and it was another 9 ½ lengths back to 13-1 shot I’ll
Wrap It Up and Tyler Baze.
Fractions on the race were 23.31, 46.33, 1:10.50 and 1:23.06.
The next major steppingstone to the Santa Anita Derby is the Grade II, 1 1/16 miles Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 8.