Alex Venneri and Little Red Feather’s Grade 1 winner on the turf showed that he could also score on the dirt, taking Sunday’s G3 Native Diver Stakes by 7 3/4 lengths in a dominating performance. The 5-year-old son of Pioneerof The Nile covered nine furlongs over a Del Mar surface rated good in 1:51.59 for trainer Phil D’Amato. Hall of Famer Mike Smith was a late replacement for jockey Flavien Prat, whose agent took him to the hospital to be checked out after a fall earlier on the card.
“Phil (trainer D’Amato) didn’t tell me anything,” Smith said. “He just said if he likes it (the off track), you’ll have some fun. He looked to be the only speed and I caught a flyer coming away from there. He was going so easy; I never moved my hands. He was looking around, so I knew he was happy. Then when I asked him to do some running, he did it. Very impressive.”
Midnight Storm took the lead out of the starting gates, out-breaking the rest of the seven-horse field by nearly a length as they headed for the first turn. Smith didn’t have to lift a finger to guide the older horse over to the inside rail; he knew what to do. Midnight Storm led the field through fractions of :23.89 and :48.36, tracked by the three-wide grouping of Pretentious, Imperative and Point Piper. Hard Aces initially trailed the field, but moved up into fourth approaching the far turn.
Though Midnight Storm only led by a length late in the far turn, Smith had yet to ask him for his best as Hard Aces and Point Piper began their rallies. Under a hand ride, Midnight Storm glided away from his rivals down the stretch, galloping out to a 7 3/4-length win at the wire. Point Piper held on over Hard Aces to be second, and Blue Tone finished fourth.
“He did it the right way,” D’Amato said. “Mike (Smith) got him to relax beautifully and at the three-eighths pole he just put the squeeze on him a little bit and (Midnight Storm) opened up on them. It’s important (graded stakes win on dirt) for a lot of reasons. At stud in the future and it gives us a lot more opportunities to look at for next year”
Bred in Kentucky by Alex Venneri and Marjorie Post Dye, Midnight Storm really came into his own throughout his 5-year-old season. Previously a Grade 2 winner, the horse improved to score his first Grade 1 in Santa Anita’s Shoemaker Mile in June, defeating Tourist and Heart to Heart. He won his next two graded stakes at Del Mar, then ran an impressive third behind Tourist and Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile earlier this month. Overall, Midnight Storm boasts a record of nine wins from 20 starts with earnings of over $ 1.3 million.
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