In this edition of our HRR Derby Profile, we look at MIDNIGHT BOURBON, the Steve Asmussen trainee who ranks 10th with 66 points. His spot in the Kentucky Derby gate has been secured, but what are his chances of winning? Can he go the distance? How does he fare against his fellow Derby hopefuls? These questions make the topic of our discussion.
First of all, a bit of basic background on the son of TIZNOW. We've grown familiar with MIDNIGHT BOURBON over the past few months by his consecutive battles with MANDALOUN and PROXY at Fair Grounds. We saw MIDNIGHT BOURBON win their first match up in the Lecomte for 10 qualifying points, then a third in the Risen Star to earn 10 points, then, more recently, a second in the Louisiana Derby to earn 40 points. He was also active during his 2-year-old season, earning 2 points from a second-place finish in the Iroquois, and 2 points for a third-place finish in the Champaigne Stakes. We can conclude MIDNIGHT BOURBON is a contender with considerable experience behind him. What's more, his speed ratings move in an upward trajectory. He's been performing consistently. We can't say the same for his sworn rivals PROXY and MANDALOUN; PROXY has tailed off and MANDALOUN ran a headscratching clunker last time out.
The fact MIDNIGHT BOURBON consistently hits the board is promising. Though it is concerning how he finished in the Louisiana Derby. Was he tiring at the end? He had the perfect trip and he struck the lead with half a furlong left to go, but he could not pass HOT ROD CHARLIE, who is a formiddable opponent in his own right. But why was MIDNIGHT BOURBON slowing down, almost being tagged by O BESOS for the second spot? Perhaps we can consider that HOT ROD CHARLIE was MIDNIGHT BOURBON's first, real class test, and chasing HOT ROD CHARLIE over the longer distance of one mile and three-sixteenths, was more of a learning race. Let us not forget, HOT ROD CHARLIE was sharp as a tack; he was making his second start off a layoff and was bound to be difficult to run by.
On credible paper, MIDNIGHT BOURBON is classified as a need-the-lead type of horse, same as CADDO RIVER and WEYBURN. But WEYBURN has been declared off the Derby Trail, while CADDO RIVER's Derby was still questionable, according to trainer Brad Cox. But make no question, even in the absence of WEYBURN and CADDO RIVER, there is no shortage of speed horses who could challenge for the lead: MEDINA SPIRIT, HIGHLY MOTIVATED, ROCK YOUR WORLD to name a few. MIDNIGHT BOURBON does, in fact, have a victory where he went gate to wire, but he was helped by a slow quarter of 24.6. Perhaps he doesn't need the lead but can use his tactical speed to be up and on the pace. He's shown that he's a warrior and will battle any horse that engages him. As a son of TIZNOW, perhaps he welcomes the longer distance and outgrinds his foes to the wire.
Note how his sire TIZNOW took a while to evolve his ability. TIZNOW skipped the entire Triple Crown series, but made up for it with spectacular performances the following Summer and Fall. Note that TIZNOW was a dual Breeder's Cup Classic winner, defeating the world's best at 10 furlong, twice. TIZNOW has sired multiple graded winners that have won at 10 furlongs and ran well at 12 furlongs. If his sire-influence comes into play, he could keep running strong that last sixteenth of a mile, while the distance-limited horses around him hit a wall. The 10th furlong is no joke for horses bred to prefer shorter, but tasked with stretching their speed — and against a field of top three-year-olds into the bargain.
Observationally, MIDNIGHT BOURBON has a long, bounding stride; he gallops like a classic distance horse. He also may not be so dependent on the lead. Why not count on the same versatility he showed in the Iroquois? He sat off the pace, raced mid pack in fifth, patiently bided his time, then struck the front at the top of the stretch for his run. The video is included below.
He didn't win, but he showed an important dimension to his running style, which could serve him well in the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps he won't lose interest if he has to race in midpack, reserved, while the race develops before him. Moreover, it's a positive point that his Iroquois was run over the Churchill Downs dirt, hinting that the surface won't be a problem on Kentucky Derby day.
Would fitness be a problem? Well, consider how the Louisiana Derby is run a week earlier than the other 100-point Derby prep races. He's got time to train. MIDNIGHT BOURBON will have had six weeks before his Run for the Roses, so it'll be a matter of keeping fit.
Since the start of April, MIDNIGHT BOURBON has been training at Churchill Downs. He breezed five furlongs on April 4th, going 1:01.20, the fifth fastest of 11 at that distance. A week later, April 11th, he breezed five furlongs in an improved 1:00.40, the fastest of all 15 works at that distance. MIDNIGHT BOURBON is training well so far. He's a steadily improving colt, and has the speed and versatility to be a serious threat in the Kentucky Derby.