Midnight Hawk and Mike Smith returning to the frontside after winning the Sham Stakes (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire).
Making the Grade, which will run through the 2014 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Midnight Hawk, winner of the Grade 3 Sham Stakes on Jan. 11 at Santa Anita Park.
Midnight Hawk handled his first stakes test with relative ease for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and an ownership group that includes Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville and new Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice. With the Sham Stakes under his belt, Midnight Hawk can target bigger prizes on the 2014 Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Gray or Roan Colt
Sire (Father): Midnight Lute
Dam (Mother): Miss Wineshine, by Wolf Power
Owners: Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings,
Breeder: Mike Pegram (Ky.)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Ability: Midnight Hawk dazzled in his career debut. He dueled for the early lead and blew away the competition to win by 6 ¼ lengths under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. Midnight Hawk earned a solid 91 Equibase Speed Figure for his first start.
Four weeks later, Baffert sent out Midnight Hawk in the Grade 3 Sham, a scoring race for the Kentucky Derby and a significant jump in class. The Midnight Lute colt responded with a 1 ¾-length victory from just off the pace.
Midnight Hawk picked up 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby and improved his Equibase Speed Figure to 100, a nice jump that shows steady progress but should not empty the tank in January of his 3-year-old season.
There still is room for improvement as Midnight Hawk ducked in after passing game pacesetter Kristo in the stretch, demonstrating a level of immaturity that reflects his racing inexperience. That’s not a bad thing. Two or three months down the road, Midnight Hawk might put a pacesetter in the rearview mirror and surge away. It takes time to develop a top 3-year-old and this colt is not yet a finished product.
“There is some other work to be done,” Smith said. “He’s still a bit green down the lane. When the crowd screams he over-exaggerates, he thinks they’re yelling right at him and gets scared. … It’s great to see a colt this talented with room to grow. That’s what you want to have.”
MIDNIGHT HAWK AND MIKE SMITH BEFORE THE SHAM
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Running style: Midnight Hawk has been near the front in his two starts and displayed plenty of speed. Smith said harnessing that speed is a big key in the development of this talented colt.
“I hate to see him be … [a pure speed horse] … and that’s all he is. There’s room to grow here and that’s really something to look forward to,” Smith said. “For such a big, heavy horse he just floats over the ground.”
Midnight Hawk definitely has plenty of raw speed. If Baffert and Smith can get him to harness it and ration it out during his races, Midnight Hawk will have a better chance at success as the races get longer and longer leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
Connections: Trainer Bob Baffert, who knows his way around the Triple Crown trail. Baffert won the Kentucky Derby three times (Silver Charm , Real Quiet , War Emblem ), the Preakness Stakes five times (Silver Charm , Real Quiet , Point Given , War Emblem , Lookin At Lucky ) and the Belmont Stakes once (Point Given ).
Midnight Hawk is owned by a partnership that includes breeder Mike Pegram, a longtime friend of Baffert’s who also raced the colt’s sire, champion sprinter Midnight Lute, and grandsire (paternal grandfather), 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet. Pegram also raced, among a long list of standouts, 2011 Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky in partnership with longtime friends Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.
John G. Sikura is president and owner of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms, one of the premier breeding operations and stud farms in the United States.
The rest of Midnight Hawk’s ownership group consists of Joel Quenneville, two-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks; Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen; and Mike Tice, former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and current Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach.
MIKE TICE (left) CONGRATULATES MIKE SMITH IN THE WINNER'S CIRCLE
Photo courtesy of Benoit & Associates
“It’s pretty exciting. It’s nice to be a part of a winner,” Tice said. “Anytime you win it’s exciting, in anything, tiddlywinks, horse racing or football.”
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the all-time leading Breeders’ Cup rider with 20 wins in the World Championships, is the regular rider of Midnight Hawk. Smith won the Kentucky Derby in 2005 with Giacomo and has finished second in the Derby four times.
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Pedigree: Midnight Hawk is from the second crop of champion sprinter Midnight Lute, whose first crop included Canadian classic winner Midnight Aria, 2013 Preakness third-place finisher Mylute, Grade 1 winners Midnight Lucky and Shakin It Up, and 2013 Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie. That early success should dispel any notion that Midnight Lute is a sprint sire. He was a Kentucky Derby hopeful early in his career before breathing problems limited him to sprinting, but he is a son of dual classic winner Real Quiet, whose Triple Crown bid ended when he finished second by a nose to Victory Gallop in the 1998 Belmont.
Grade 1-placed stakes winner Miss Wineshine is the dam (mother) of Midnight Hawk. She was also raced by Pegram. A Texas-bred, Miss Wineshine won the 1999 Silver Spur Stakes and finished third in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes at seven furlongs.
Miss Wineshine has produced two stakes winners from five winners, including Midnight Hawk’s half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) Mayor Marv, winner of the 2009 Turf Paradise Derby. Midnight Hawk’s second dam (maternal grandmother), Miss Mississippi, was a winner a one mile.
The female half of Midnight Lucky’s pedigree provides just enough class and stamina to offer some reason for optimism without jumping off the page as a true classic-type pedigree. Midnight Lute, however, looks like the real deal as a stallion capable of siring distance horses who also possess his tremendous acceleration.