MIDNIGHT TRANSFER WINS SAN PEDRO...

MIDNIGHT TRANSFER WINS SAN PEDRO...
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE NON-PRECOCIOUS ONES

On Sunday at Santa Anita, MIDNIGHT TRANSFER resolutely wore down front runner GOT EVEN in the stretch to win the $82.500 San Pedro Stakes by a head.

The race is certainly not in the pantheon of Kentucky Derby prep races and indeed MIDNIGHT TRANSFER, for all his promise, was garnering only his second career win from five lifetime starts.

For a developing, just turned 3-year old, two wins might not be a major concern as it is very possible that the youngster is now coming into his own. And in fact, that might very well be the case. But this isn’t a youngster that broke his maiden first out and was then competitive against solid stakes opponents or even allowance rivals. MIDNIGHT TRANSFER needed four sprints to finally break his maiden, which he did in dominating fashion on opening day at Santa Anita. And in those four sprints he ran many different races…showing speed, tracking the pace and closing. The immaturity was there to see.

So does his strong showing in the maiden breaker and another strong close in the 6 horse San Pedro indicate that the colt is finally figuring it out? At this point that is difficult to assess because his five races have all been around one turn: which leaves evaluation up in the air until we see him go long.

For one very important reason trainer Carla Gaines has to be happy with the two straight victories, one dominant and the other hard earned: at least the son of Hard Spun knows how to win.

Gaines has indicated that she will finally send the horse around two turns, and will do so on the Derby Trail as the colt is pointed towards the Grade II San Felipe, a mile and a sixteenth race at Santa Anita on March 10.

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That brings us to the headline question; how do you evaluate a colt that does not share in the precocious brilliance that is the focus-upon attribute that seems to hurl sought-after hope-this-is-the-one champions into the spotlight and up on the expectation pedestal long before anyone even knows if they can get a distance of ground…can you say Uncle Mo, can you say Bellamy Road, can you say Arazi?

The answer is you don’t know. But I am beginning to believe that there is a dynamic at work in racing right now which actually makes it easier to win the Kentucky Derby if LESS BRILLIANCE IS SHOWN EARLY ON. I also believe that the pressure gauge registers higher the costlier the yearling purchase or home bred expectations and the higher up the echelon ladder the barn and/or trainer.

Last year there was very little light shined on ANIMAL KINGDOM or Graham Motion during the January-April buildup to the Derby. In 2010 SUPER SAVER hadn’t exactly been one of the lead ponies on the Derby Trail although by the time the Derby arrived he was sent off as the 8-1 second favorite (no misprint…the race had the second-longest price favorite in history, the 6.3-1 LOOKIN AT LUCKY.

How about 2009? If I asked 100 people with a semblance of racing knowledge which horse won the Kentucky Derby that year I’d be willing to lay 5-2 that most of them would respond “something with the word Bird in it, and I know it was a big price.” Some might even recall that it was MINE THAT BIRD. Yet how many would be able to tell you that the colt’s final prep for “trainer Bennie Wooley, Jr.” was a loss at Sunland Park.

In 2008, BIG BROWN left little to doubt as he won handily as the 2.4-1 favorite. But even that year was one in which the Dick Dutrow trained youngster was, to say the least, unconventionally conditioned (ran on turf early in the year – ran only two three year old preps) yet was totally ready come the first Saturday in May.

So how will MIDNIGHT TRANSFER develop? What can we expect? Is he not to be considered because he has already removed himself from greatness expectations because he needed four races to break his maiden and has yet to go two turns? How would you look at his potential?

I’ll tell you what I’ll do…I’ll certainly wait and see what he does if he runs next, as planned now, in the San Felipe. And what will I do if, say, he runs even in the San Felipe and neither distinguishes or disgraces himself? Good question…I’ll measure how he ran, did he run even fractions, was he as gritty as his sire HARD SPUN (who always had to answer stamina and distance questions and more often than not answered those questions favorably) who himself had plenty of class in his pedigree (Danzig – Northern Dancer – Neartic on the male side…and French Deputy – Deputy Minister – Vice Regent – Northern Dancer on MIDNIGHT TRANSFER’S dam sire side.)

Yes, what I’ll do is the same thing I do every year after tracking hundreds of possible Derby contenders as they work their way on and off the Derby Trail…never jump off the band wagon too late or on it too early.

Heck there have even been years when I’ve made a Midnight Transfer on Kentucky Derby Eve.

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