Midnight Interlude a winner
While Matamata trainer Karyn McQuade was saddling her latest winner, Lydian Prince at Rotorua last Friday, on the other side of the world a horse with a direct link to her stable was being touted as a leading candidate for one of the world’s most famous races, the Kentucky Derby.
The horse in question is the Californian-trained three-year-old Midnight Interlude, who entered calculations for the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 7 when he won last week’s US$1 million Santa Anita Derby. Midnight Interlude is a son of the former McQuade-trained filly Midnight Kiss, who was sold to the United States after finishing third in the 2004 New Zealand Oaks.
Midnight Kiss’s racing career spanned just four starts, beginning with a debut second on her home track in late 2003, followed by a 1900-metre maiden victory at Rotorua and another over 2170 metres at Tauranga, all in the space of a month. Ten days after that second win she stamped her class in her one remaining start when finishing third in the country’s most significant race for three-year-old fillies, the New Zealand Oaks over 2400 metres at Trentham.
That form inevitably attracted the attention of bloodstock agents and after going through veterinary examinations and other formalities, the decision was made by Midnight Kiss’s Auckland owners to sell her to Californian interests for $800,000. Sadly, she was never to race again after suffering leg issues when put into work soon after her arrival on the North American west coast.
‘‘It was a real shame that she didn’t get the chance to show what she was made of,’’ reflects her former trainer.
‘‘She was a lovely filly with a ton of ability. I used to love riding her work, she was unbelievable the way she would just cruise along and as you asked her to she would click up through the gears.’’
‘‘I still think that with a more thorough preparation she could have won the Oaks. She struck some foot problems before her first start raced and as things turned out we were a month behind. She came up against a good one in Calveen for her first start and we realised when we stepped her up to a middle-distance and she won next time out that we might have an Oaks filly on our hands.
‘‘Back then the New Zealand Oaks was run in January, two months earlier than these days, and I still wonder what might have been if we’d had that extra time to play with.’’
It’s a source of immense pleasure, therefore, that Midnight Kiss’s ability has been transmitted to the next generation.
Midnight Interlude, by the moderately successful stallion War Chant, is the third foal she has produced in California. At his third start he won a maiden mile (1600-metre) event at Santa Anita by eight lengths and although the winning margin was only a neck, the manner in which he managed the massive step up to the Santa Anita Derby at his next start has propelled him to the forefront of Kentucky Derby discussions.
Midnight Interlude is trained by one of the best in the business, Bob Baffert, who has already prepared three winners of the historic classic.
Further statistical analysis underlines the merit of the Santa Anita Derby as a guide to the Kentucky Derby, with previous winners of the double including Affirmed in 1978 and Sunday Silence 11 years later. More than three decades after his total domination of North American three-year-old ranks, Affirmed remains the last horse to complete the Triple Crown comprising the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
Back at Karyn and Hamish McQuade’s Taihoa training establishment, there’s much more than a sentimental interest in whether Midnight Interlude can add his name to racing history minutes after the Churchill Downs crowd rises to sing My Old Kentucky Home.
Rather fortuitously, they are the owners of the only two female members of the family remaining in New Zealand. Ironically, given the unfolding scenario in North America, Midnight Kiss’s bloodlines are pure American, given that her sire was the USbred shuttle stallion Groom Dancer and her dam Midnight Assembly is also American-bred.
Incidentally, that mare’s grandsire was Secretariat, perhaps the most famous of all Kentucky Derby winners from his 1973 victory in a record time that still stands.
Midnight Kiss was one of only two fillies produced by Midnight Assembly, the other being the O’Reilly filly Midnight Dip, who showed early promise but was retired to stud as a non-winner. After producing two colts, Midnight Dip was sent to auction in 2009 and was snapped up by the McQuades for what was hopefully then and is most definitely now a bargain $4500.
Only weeks later she produced a filly by the unproven stallion Cecconi and as a rising two-yearold that has just been broken in, she is still owned by the McQuades. Midnight Dip, in the meantime, did not get in foal in 2009 but is due to foal this spring to El Hermano, an unraced brother to Cox Plate winner El Segundo.
‘‘We fancied on capitalising on the success of the O’Reilly-Pins cross but we couldn’t afford to send her to Pins so we settled on the much cheaper option of one of his sons,’’ Hamish McQuade said of the $1000 service fee expenditure.
Now in the wake of Midnight Interlude’s rise to prominence, bloodstock agents are again beating a path to the McQuade stable door.
‘‘We’ve been asked for photos of the Cecconi filly to be sent to the States,’’ said Hamish, ‘‘so we’ll see what comes of that.’’
Back to the reality of life on the home front, the McQuades find themselves at something of a disadvantage given the small numbers they are currently training, with last Friday’s Rotorua winner Lydian Prince just their fourth for the season.
‘‘It’s definitely a battle for lower profile trainers like us,’’ said Karyn, ‘‘but all you can do is keep putting in and hoping your luck or your popularity improves.’’
Lydian Prince is a younger brother to another extreme talent sold out of the McQuade yard, Herculian Prince, who was purchased by clients of Gai Waterhouse’s Sydney stable as the winner of three of his six local starts. Last October the big bay capped his rise to the top when he won the Metropolitan Handicap at Randwick, crediting the first lady of Australian racing with her 100th Group One success.
‘‘This horse (Lydian Prince) isn’t as switched on as his brother was at the same stage,’’ said Karyn.
‘‘He doesn’t have that same brilliance but I’ve got no doubts that he’ll stay all day, so hopefully we’ll be able to pick up a nice race or two as he develops.’’
Winners: Karyn McQuade and her former talented stable member Herculian Prince, pictured after finishing second in his last New Zealand start before being sold to Sydney trainer Gai Waterhouse.