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“I love his chances,” he said. “He’s an exciting horse. Hopefully, we get a good shot at it and a great outcome.”
Midnight Bourbon never got a good shot at ending Asmussen’s Kentucky Derby drought. He broke slowly and became entrapped in an early game of bumper cars. He and jockey Mike Smith were caught four wide around the turns, never a good idea when asking a still-maturing 3-year-old to run a mile and a quarter for the first time. The youngster paid the price for all of that with a sixth-place finish, 8 1/4 lengths behind controversial winner Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
It was the only time in Midnight Bourbon’s eight-race career that he failed to hit the board. He prepped for the Derby at Fair Grounds, opening the season with his second victory, a one-length decision in the Lecomte Stake before a third in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and a second in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.
Despite the quick two-week interval between the Derby and Preakness, Asmussen never hesitated in bringing him back.
“He’s a high-energy horse,” the trainer said. “I think it would be obvious if he wasn’t himself and he has been himself.”
Midnight Bourbon has represented a challenging but promising project since Winchell Thoroughbreds went to $525,000 to bring him home from the 2019 Keeneland September yearling sale.
“Bigger kids take longer to come around, plain and simple. He’s big, tall, wide and heavy,” Asmussen said, adding, “I love the spacing of his races to this point to allow him to be in this condition and I’m very proud of how he looks and travels.”
Midnight Bourbon was given a solid foundation as a juvenile. He broke his maiden at second asking at Ellis Park before coming in second in the Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford at Churchill Downs. He concluded his first campaign with a six-wide bid at the top of the stretch that left him third in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes last October at Belmont Park.
Asmussen fully expects Midnight Bourbon to follow the path of his sire.
“Tiznow was a big, strong horse himself, but it took him quite a while to become all he could be,” he noted. “We hope to duplicate that.”
Tiznow always saved the best for last. He stands as the only repeat winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, accomplishing that in 2000 and 2001.
Midnight Bourbon is remarkably strong for his age. He created a pre-Derby stir when he broke loose from his handler on the backside. The sturdy Asmussen took matters into his own hands when he led him from the barn to the paddock for the Derby. Although attendance was limited at Churchill Downs due to the pandemic, the atmosphere was nonetheless electric. He also plans to lead over the horse for the Preakness.
Midnight Bourbon drew post-position five in a field of 10 for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Irad Ortiz Jr., winner of three consecutive Eclipse Awards as outstanding jockey, takes over the reins from Smith, who will pilot Concert Tour. It is anticipated that Midnight Bourbon will be much more forwardly placed than he was during his troubled Derby trip.
For Asmussen, it is a matter of “when” and not “if” his horse breaks through in a major race such as the Preakness.
“I think we’ve seen a nice progression in him from a solid 2-year-old to an on-the-cusp 3-year-old. But time is on his side,” he said. “You see how he travels and how he acts. He’s going to continue to get better and he’s not that far away from being at an elite level.
“I hope this is the day where we cross that barrier.”