Winchell Thoroughbreds Midnight Bourbon, sidelined since running third in last October's Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, returned in a big way on Saturday when going gate-to-wire to win the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds.
With his first stakes win, Midnight Bourbon collected 10 qualifying points toward the 2021 Kentucky Derby and now has 16 points total to move into third-place on the leaderboard for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. The son of Tiznow had previously earned two points for the Champagne effort and four points for finishing second in the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs prior to the Champagne.
In the Lecomte, Midnight Bourbon was scheduled to have Asmussen's go-to rider Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons for the first time, but instead Joe Talamo got the pick-up mount when Santana took off all rides Saturday because of illness.
Talamo took full advantage of the opportunity. He and Midnight Bourbon broke sharply from the inside stall and went straight to the front while easing through moderate fractions of 24.68 and 48.99 for the opening half mile.
Midnight Bourbon was pressed along his outside by both odds-on favorite Mandaloun and Proxy, and it was that triumvirate that separated itself from the field down the backstretch. After six furlongs completed in 1:13.57, Midnight Bourbon maintained a narrow advantage into the stretch as both Mandaloun and Proxy continued to chase. The efforts proved futile, however, as Midnight Bourbon was able to hold those rivals at bay and win by a length. Final time on a fast track was 1:44.41 for 1 1/16 miles.
#1 Midnight Bourbon, a son of @WinStarFarm’s #Tiznow, refused to lose the Lecomte Stakes from @fairgroundsnola, picking up 10 #KyDerby points with @JoeTalamo up for #SteveAsmussen. pic.twitter.com/NDT48qLL0s— TwinSpires Racing ?? (@TwinSpires) January 17, 2021
Proxy came in second to earn four Kentucky Derby points for Godolphin and trainer Michael Stidham. He was followed across the wire by Mandaloun (2 points) and Santa Cruiser (1).
After the win, Talamo was quick to give thanks for being given the mount aboard aboard Midnight Bourbon.
"It felt really good....just really grateful to Steve for giving me the opportunity on him," Talamo said. "Very, very classy horse. He broke like a rocket out of there and I just tried to be a good passenger from there. He settled like a champ and when those horses came to him down the lane, he fought (them) off, and he really galloped out very, very nice."
Midnight Bourbon paid $9.40 as the second-choice in the field.
Asmussen noted that while Midnight Bourbon had some success last year, the expectations were he would improve with added distance.
"Obviously he had run some solid races, but we were very much looking forward to getting him into two-turn races," Asmussen said. "[With] his pedigree, we think that going further will help him. He's got a beautiful stride to him."
Out of the Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon, Midnight Bourbon was a $525,000 purchase by Winchell Thoroughbred at the 2019 Keeneland September yearling sale. Midnight Bourbon is the fourth graded stakes winner produced by Catch the Moon, who was unraced. She is also the dam of millionaire, Girvin; Pirate's Punch, winner of last year's Salvatore Mile (G3); and Cocked and Loaded, who won the 2015 Iroquois.
Midnight Bourbon broke his maiden going a mile in start No. 2 at Ellis Park on Aug. 22 before heading straight into the stakes ranks for the Iroquois and Champagne.
The field for the Lecomte, which kicked off the Fair Grounds road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby, was reduced by three with the scratches of Beep Beep, Manor House and Dyno O Mite. Beep Beep and Manor House ran earlier in the card in a 1 1/16-miles allowance race, where Beep Beep checked in fourth and Manor House finished off the board. Dyn O Mite is entered in an allowance race Monday at Fair Grounds.
After the Lecomte, the Fair Grounds road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby continues with the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Stakes (G2) on Feb. 13, which awards 50 points to the winner; and concludes with the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 20 with 100 points going to the winner.
Asmussen indicated the Risen Star will likely be next for Midnight Bourbon.
"He's going to develop into an excellent 3-year-old," Asmussen said.
As for the Risen Star?
"Absolutely. We were very excited to get him down here and get him in this series. With him being capable of what he is away from there, the ground that he covers, I think it's a natural fit."