Battle of Midway
By Kaitlin Free
Photos By Courtney Snow
Broken bones are difficult to fix but sometimes hearts even more so. A loss of any equine athlete is a sad but all too real part of our sport. I like to think all horses are created equal, but a notion like that is simply foolish. A chosen few are extremely gifted in many ways, and losing one of them is an immeasurable loss to the breed. The great ones all seem to possess three distinct characteristics – talent, a sound mind, and lots of heart. Battle of Midway certainly excelled in those three categories. Not only was he a fan and barn favorite, but he was a horse of exceptional qualities.
Battle of Midway was a colt that showed great promise from an early age. He was purchased for $410,000 by Fox Hill Farm at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale. He had a strong, athletic build for a yearling, but also seemed to be wiser than his peers. Battle of Midway certainly could have started his juvenile season, but the connections wanted to take their time and unveil him as a fresh 3YO. He debuted in late January of 2017 and won his maiden will a full head of steam. He was a horse that wasn’t afraid to get into a dog fight, and encountered his first confrontation in his first race before taking control to power away. He immediately entered stakes company where he ran a strong third in the San Vicente and followed that up with a clear allowance win. The connections thought they had a Derby prospect on their hands and entered Battle of Midway into the Santa Anita Derby. He certainly was one of the most inexperienced in the field, but what he lacked in resume he made up for with sheer ability. He had early speed throughout the race and dictated the race into the stretch before exchanging blow after blow with G1 winner Gormley. In the end Gormley hit the wire first, but Battle of Midway had saved something for Louisville. He earned 40 points to the Kentucky Derby with his second place showing.
Battle of Midway’s brave Santa Anita Derby run caught the attention of many in the racing industry, including several big time owners. Fox Hill Farm had no intention to sell their prized colt but an offer they simply could not refuse came along. The powerhouse combination of Don Alberto Stable and WinStar Farm wanted the young son of Smart Strike bad. Although he exchanged hands in ownership, he remained with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The new group certainly thought they had a wildcard for the Derby and they were spot on. Battle of Midway stalked the pace throughout and put in a strong bid heading for home and kept going gamely. He finished a surprise third at longer odds than he deserved. When looking back on the Derby, Battle of Midway certainly had a textbook ride and trip, also perhaps the sneaky best race.
Up until the Breeders’ Cup the rest of Battle of Midway’s 3YO campaign was without large fanfair. He won the G3 Affirmed Stakes and listed Shared Belief Stakes as well as a second in the Oklahoma Derby. His Haskell run was unremarkable and somewhat uncharacteristic to finish sixth. He came into the Breeders’ Cup Mile with a chance back home in California. Most horse players favored the likes of Mor Spirit, Practical Joke or Sharp Azteca in this race, but Battle of Midway certainly was the ‘wise guy’ horse. He sat in his usual off the pace style before dueling with the speedy Sharp Azteca in the stretch, prevailing under the guiding hands of Flavien Prat. That day Battle of Midway’s talent was vindicated and a top stallion prospect was born. Most fans were excited to see him develop into a top older horse before his retirement was announced. WinStar thought long and hard about it, but they found Battle of Midway to be the heir to his father’s throne that they were looking for.
Battle of Midway took to his new job as a stallion in 2018, but problems arose quickly. He was found to be subfertile, only impregnating 5 of the nearly 70 mares he bred. The decision was another tough one, but he simply had too much talent to waste as a still young colt. Battle of Midway was returned to Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn after the breeding season and was ready to go by August. He made his way back to the races with a strong second in the Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar. Most horses that return to the races after a failed start at stud are shells of their former selves. A select do illicit productive racing careers the second time around, the Australian champion Starspangledbanner was a good example. Battle of Midway capped off his 4YO season with two wins and a second place between four races. He was almost certainly back to his prior form and was poised to have a massive 5YO season.
With the top older male division all but vacant in 2019, Battle of Midway started off with a bang. His hard fought victory over a tough McKinzie in the San Pasqual Stakes was the first time everyone saw shades of the same old Battle of Midway. Many ranked him as the early favorite to lead the older male division and were eager for him to push on to the Dubai World Cup. He was confirmed for the race a week later and would immediately begin those preparations. A dream redemption season was soon cut short by a cruel twist of fate. In his second workout back from his season opener, Battle of Midway took a bad step shattering one of his hind pasterns. Connections exhausted all options to save the unique horse but his injuries were too severe. The loss of Battle of Midway was undoubtedly the most heavy of recent times.
Aside from his talent that spoke for itself, Battle of Midway left this life with two other great attributes to remember, his mind and his heart. He had the best of both worlds, as chronicled by equine behavioral expert Kerry Thomas. Kerry and Pete Denk ranked Battle of Midway #8 in their Kentucky Derby analysis in 2017. They profiled the horses based on their patterns of motion and herd dynamics. Here are a few special snippets from Battle of Midway’s segment :
“In every other metric we use to judge quality in a horse, Battle of Midway scores very highly. This is a special colt.”
Battle of Midway gave every inch of himself in every race. He was probably an easier horse to ride as he was good at keeping himself out of trouble and ran smartly in a group. As stated earlier, he was a horse that certainly wasn’t afraid to come out swinging. Battle of Midway liked to trade punches with horses, and more often than not came out on the winning end. His best performances came when his nose was to the grindstone heading for home.
Battle of Midway’s extraordinary mind and heart were also on display during his short time at stud. Even before he started breeding, he was one of the most professional stallions at WinStar. From the moment he arrived on the farm he was a kind and easy horse to work with. He stood proud as he was inspected by breeders, often times never moving a muscle. Some thoroughbred stallions are extremely spirited and sometimes reluctant to cooperate even for showings. Battle of Midway was all too happy to pose for fans and experts alike.
It is a devastating blow to the breed that Battle of Midway could not pass on his genes even more. He had everything you could ever dream of in a stallion and as a race horse. His racing career came to an abrupt end with 8 wins from 16 starts, only missing the board twice. He banked $1,589,049 while racing, and stood for a fee of $20,000.
Two of the five anticipated Battle of Midway foals have already arrived. If even one of those foals inherits a fraction of what their sire had to offer, the connections are extremely lucky. These remarkable five will be cherished for a lifetime, as will the memory of the last great son of Smart Strike.