The front-runner wasn't done, though, and fought back admirably on the inside but could not hold off the Smart Strike colt. Battle of Midway finished a half-length ahead at the wire for his first grade 1 victory and stopped the clock in 1:35.20, with jockey Flavien Prat adding an emphatic celebratory swipe at the air.
After a good break from post No. 9 in the field of 10, Battle of Midway was wide through most of the Dirt Mile. With a tracking, four-wide trip in the first turn, Battle of Midway continued on his outside path in the backstretch, then launched his bid five-wide in the final bend.
"I let him break and find position and was wide early. I thought there would be more pace," Prat said. "Then down the backside he relaxed well and gave me a really good kick."
Ivan Rodriguez's Sharp Azteca set fractions of :22.94, :46.95, and 1:11.13 through six furlongs, but had a battle on his hand as he turned for home. Although the Freud colt could not hold off the winner, trainer Jorge Navarro was proud of Sharp Azteca.
"He dug in through the stretch and tried hard," Navarro said of the four-time graded winner. "He showed up."
The Dirt Mile was Battle of Midway's second graded victory—he also won the June 24 Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita Park and came in third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands —but trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said the colt's affinity for Del Mar, where he won the Aug. 26 Shared Belief Stakes, was key.
"He's a horse for the course," Hollendorfer said. "He loves Del Mar. He had run a huge number here (in the Shared Belief Stakes). We had a lot of confidence in him coming into this race."
Practical Joke closed from ninth to finish fourth, and was followed by Iron Fist, Giant Expectations, and Gato Del Oro.
Favored Mor Spirit, who got a clean, tracking trip in third, began to drop back in the final turn and finished eighth. Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Cupid finished last, with Accelerate between them.
"I was afraid that, with Mor Spirit going in, that I couldn't get enough into him. He just got tired," Baffert said. "I was disappointed in Cupid. Maybe it was too short for him. He chased a little bit. If they don't show up, they don't show up."
"I was in a really good spot," said Mor Spirit's jockey, Mike Smith. "He just didn’t want it today. That’s not him. He just let go.”
Off at 14-1, Battle of Midway paid $30.40, $11.40, and $6.60 across the board. Bred in Kentucky by Thor-Bred Stables, out of the Concerto mare Rigoletta—a Grade 1 winner herself—Battle of Midway now has a 5-2-2 record from 10 starts and more than $1.2 million in earnings. - Jeremy Balan