Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon made a triumphant season debut Jan. 16 with a frontrunning victory in the $200,000, Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Unraced since a third-place finish in the Oct. 10 Champagne Stakes behind Jackie’s Warrior and Reinvestment Risk, the 3-year-old son of Tiznow put in a professional performance under Joe Talamo in his first try around two turns, kicking on to a one-length score with more to give after showing the way throughout in the 1 1/16-mile race.
As a qualifying race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the Lecomte awarded points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve starting gate. The win moved Midnight Bourbon up to third on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 16 points total.
“I’m very happy with him. Lovely horse; he’s a beautiful individual,” trainer Steve Asmussen said.
All four of Midnight Bourbon’s prior starts for Asmussen came at a mile, including a runner-up finish beneath the Twin Spires in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford at Churchill Downs. Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings in Kentucky, the bay colt is out of the unraced Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon, the dam (mother) of Grade 1 winner Girvin, Grade 3 winner Cocked and Loaded, and Grade 3 winner Pirate’s Punch.
Winchell Thoroughbreds paid $525,000 for the colt when he was consigned by Warrendale Sales to the 2019 Keeneland September yearling sale.
“Obviously he’d run some solid races, but we were very much looking forward to getting him into two-turn races,” Asmussen said. “[Given] his pedigree, we think that going further will help him. He’s got a beautiful stride to him. He was away nice and cleanly; Joe gave him a nice trip. I think he’s going to develop into an excellent 3-year-old.”
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Talamo rode Midnight Bourbon for the first time; the colt was partnered with New York-based Jose Ortiz in the Champagne and had Gerardo Corrales in the irons for the Iroquois and when he broke his maiden in August at Ellis Park.
Breaking from the inside post in an eight-horse field, the two got along swimmingly as Midnight Bourbon settled kindly while putting up quarter-mile fractions of :24.68, :48.99, and 1:13.57.
“Just very grateful Steve gave me an opportunity on him,” Talamo said. “A very, very classy horse. He broke like a rocket out of there and then I just tried to be a good passenger from there. He settled like a champ.”
Proxy gave chase throughout and tried to make a run at the leader off the turn for home, almost drawing on even terms, with 4-5 favorite Mandaloun also in pursuit on the outside. But Midnight Bourbon had more to give, and held sway under right-handed encouragement through a 1:38.09 mile en route to victory in a final time of 1:44.41 on a fast track.
“When those horses came to him down the lane, he fought off and really galloped out very nice. A very nice horse,” Talamo said.
Coming in second was the Mike Stidham-trained Proxy, who drifted significantly under left-handed urging from Mitchell Murrill. Mandaloun was a head back in third, with a gap of 8 3/4 lengths back to Santa Cruiser.
“Very, very happy with that,” Stidham said of Proxy’s finish. “He was a little green last time and both of his wins were on the lead, so he didn’t really learn a lot. But the way he dug in and held off the favorite in the end, and was getting to the winner, I couldn’t have been happier. I told Mitchell that there was speed in here and he’s only won on the lead, so help him away from there and get a good position without giving up a whole lot. I think the farther the better; the mile and an eighth, and the mile and 3/16ths of the Louisiana Derby is only going to help him. We needed him to do what he did today [to keep going on down the Road to the Kentucky Derby], and he did it.”
Jockey Florent Geroux had no excuses for Mandaloun’s finish.
“I was in a good stalking position, two or three wide,” he said. “My options were limited. The winner just kept going. It was very close for second. The way we started, that’s the way we finished. Maybe it was the slow pace, but the horses in front of me had a better kick at the end.”
The next step on the Road to the Kentucky Derby in Louisiana is the Feb. 13 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, a Grade 2 race Asmussen expects to target with Midnight Bourbon.
“Absolutely,” the trainer said. “We were very excited to get him down here and get him into this series. With him being capable of what he is away from there and the ground that he covers, I think it’s a natural fit.”