RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park: Sunday’s Turf-Stakes Quartet

August 3, 2022

The Long and Short of Call Me Midnight: Derby Talent, Sprinter’s Air

HENDERSON, Ky.— Trainer Keith Desormeaux is hoping the proverb like father like son holds true in the case of Call Me Midnight.

Big hoof prints to fill, for sure. But the 3-year-old colt sired by two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute can take a step in that direction when Call Me Midnight takes on older horses in Sunday’s $100,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at the RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park.

Trained by Keith Desormeaux for owners Peter Cantrell and Benjamin Gase, Call Me Midnight comes into the 5 1/2-furlong Turf Sprint off of a second by a head in the Dade Park Dash.

Call Me Midnight was on the Kentucky Derby trail over the winter — winning the Grade 3 Lecomte in New Orleans at 28-1 odds — but is finding his niche sprinting. Midnight Lute, a son of 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet, was bred for distance racing but a breathing obstruction kept him out of racing for the fall of his 2-year-old season and the entire spring at 3. Instead he wound up as a world-class sprinter at age 4 and 5, winning the 2007-2008 Breeders’ Cup.

An airway issue, which doesn’t impact his ability to race but compromises how far he can be effective, similarly sent Call Me Midnight back to shorter distances.

“That horse has Derby talent, but the reason he didn’t make it is because of airway issues,” Desormeaux said, adding in reference to one of the industry’s premier throat specialists and the renowned equine hospital where he works, “Thanks to the talents of Dr. Rolf Embertson over at Rood & Riddle, he has made a serious problem into an obviously very useful horse. But yes, he does have limitations.”

Of Midnight Lute, Desormeaux quipped, “Maybe we’ll end up that way. Maybe it’s deja vu all over again with this son of Midnight Lute. That’s what we’re hoping. That’s why we’re sprinting now.”

However, Desormeaux also is banking that Call Me Midnight will thrive on the turf. Midnight Lute never ran on grass, though he won his second Breeders’ Cup over Santa Anita’s then-synthetic surface. But he has has sired a number of high-quality grass horses (as well as top sprinters and distance horses on dirt), and Call Me Midnight also has a lot of turf pedigree in his female family.

Call Me Midnight was to make his grass debut against fellow 3-year-olds in the Dade Park Dash. But it was rained off the turf, with Call Me Midnight narrowly losing All in Sync, who also is headed to Sunday’s stakes.

“Our real goal is the Franklin-Simpson at Kentucky Downs,” Desormeaux said of the $600,000, Grade 2 stakes for 3-year-olds on Sept. 10. “I tried to get him on the turf last race, but it was rained off. So that’s why we’re going against old horses. We’re going to be in against some tough older horses. But you have to be able to be competitive in a race like this if you think you’re going to win the Franklin-Simpson.”

Call Me Midnight had his corrective throat procedure after starting his career with two bad races. He earned his first victory at a mile last fall and started his 3-year-old season with a late-running score in the 1 1/16-mile Lecomte. That day he paid $59 to win in beating Epicenter – the future Louisiana Derby winner and hard-luck Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up — and eventual Arkansas Derby and Haskell winner Cyberknife.

“We had big aspirations in the Louisiana Derby,” Desormeaux said. “But obviously he just couldn’t get enough air to be productive at the distance” in finishing sixth in the 1 3/16-mile major Kentucky Derby prep.

“But that was just one bad race, so we gave him that one more chance,” he continued, adding of a ninth place in Keeneland’s Stonestreet Lexington (G3) at 1 1/16 miles, “and he was like ‘Guys, come on. I’m trying to tell you all I don’t want that distance. Let me sprint, and I’m going to take care of you all.’”

Desormeaux calls Call Me Midnight’s narrow defeat in the Dade Park Dash “the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.

“My horse coming through on the inside,” he continued. “He’s about to open up on the field, and he stumbles behind. (Jockey) Mitch Murrill told me he’s never seen that before. I’ve never seen it before. The horse clipped heels with his back legs with the horse on the side of him’s front legs. They never made contact. The two horses’ feet hit, and Call Me Midnight’s hind end went out from under him. That’s why, when he was making that move on the rail, he stumbled and lost a couple of lengths and then came back again.

“When you clip heels, your horse’s front legs are grabbing the hind legs of the horse in front of you. What happened here was the opposite. Weird. Weird. Weird.”

Entries will be taken Thursday for the Turf Sprint, one of four $100,000 stakes on Sunday’s card. The others are the Evan Williams Turf Mile, Centennial Distaff Turf Mile and the Laguna Distaff Turf Sprint. Each purse includes $25,000 in Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund purse enhancements for registered Kentucky-breds.

Off-Turf Stakes-Winners All in Sync, Speedometer in Against Elders

All in Sync (#3 outside) narrowly beat Call Me Midnight in Ellis Park’s off-the-turf Dade Park Dash. The two 3-year-olds are scheduled to hook up against older horses in Sunday’s $100,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint. (Coady Photography)

A lot of trainers hope to use Sunday’s turf stakes as stepping stones to big-money stakes in early September at Kentucky Downs, which offers America’s highest average daily purses.

Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Ellis Park meet-leader Steve Asmussen also was hoping to run All in Sync on grass for the first time in the Dade Park Dash. He, too, is using the Twin Spires Turf Sprint as a launching pad to the Franklin-Simpson.

“I think it’s the right prep to go to Kentucky Downs, which is where I want to be,” he said.

It’s a similar story with Speedometer, trained by Asmussen for Kentucky Downs’ co-managing partner Ron Winchell. Ellis Park’s opening-weekend Pea Patch Overnight Stakes was to be the 3-year-old filly’s first turf start since last summer at Saratoga. However, it also was rained off the grass. Speedometer romped in the mud to a five-length victory. She now will take on older fillies and mares in the Laguna Distaff Turf Sprint.

“Both of them are running against older horses, but I just thought it was better timing for Kentucky Downs than other options,” Asmussen said.

Jennie Rees/Ellis Park

Main photo: Call Me Midnight

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