Midnight Hawk surged past Kristo in the stretch and remained unbeaten in his stakes debut Saturday, posting a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3, $98,000Sham at Santa Anita. Trained by Bob Baffert, the Midnight Lute colt completed a mile in 1:36 2/5 with jockey Mike Smith.
The gray three-year-old also added his name to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, earning 10 points for winning the "Prep Season" event.
"It's great to see a colt this talented with room to grow. That's what you want to have," Smith said. "There's room to grow here and that's really something to look forward to.
"For such a big, heavy horse he just floats over the ground."
A 6 1/4-length winner debut winner at Hollywood Park December 13, Midnight Hawk was bet down to 2-5 favoritism in the four-horse Sham following the defections of Top Fortitude and Life Is a Joy. He made his two-turn debut Saturday after capturing his first start at 7 1/2 furlongs.
"Today, more so than winning I wanted to find out if he could go long," Smith said. "If you can't go long, there's no use worrying about anything else. He proved he could go long."
Midnight Hawk raced up close in second as Kristo showed the way from his inside post, completing the opening quarter-mile in :23 1/5. Under no encouragement from the rider, Midnight Hawk took a narrow lead along the backstretch, reaching a half-mile in :46 1/5, but Kristo regained the advantage entering the far turn and passed the three-quarters mark in 1:10 2/5.
Midnight Hawk took the lead again entering the straightaway. Kristo tried to battle back in upper stretch, but he was no match for his rival in the final furlong. Midnight Hawk drifted in slightly while clear late and won going away under the finish line.
"He was much better in the gate today," Smith said. "It was evident the work they have done, he's improved. There is some other work to be done though. He's still a bit green down the lane."
Midnight Hawk raced without blinkers after donning the headgear in his first start.
"He's still a little green, but I liked him a lot better without the blinkers," Baffert said. "He was waiting a little bit on horses but he came back, he didn't look like he was very tired. He wasn't blowing very hard, so that's a good sign."
"When the crowd screams he over-exaggerates (when he changed paths to the rail late in the stretch), he thinks they're yelling right at him and gets scared," Smith added. "There are some things that Bob can do that should help that as well though."
Kristo, the 2-1 second choice, wound up 3 1/4 length clear of third-placer Ontology. It was another 9 1/2-length gap back to the trailing I'll Wrap It Up.
"The winner was much too fast," said Rafael Bejarano, rider of Kristo. "He lost ground on both turns and still beat me. He's a nice horse, a really good horse."
Midnight Hawk was bred in Kentucky by co-owner Mike Pegram. He is also campaigned by Hill 'n' Dale Equine Holdings Inc. (J.G. Sikura), Mike Kitchen, Joel Queenneville amd Mike Tice.
A half-brother to the stakes winner Mayor Marv, Midnight Hawk is out of the stakes-winning and Grade 1-placed Wolf Power mare Miss Wineshine.
Baffert was asked what's next for exciting three-year-old.
"We'll let him tell us when he's ready to roll," the three-time Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner said. "He's a big, heavy horse, and he can handle a lot. He's so heavy, I'd rather run him than work him.
"So far, so good, but we'll just take baby steps as we go and just have fun with him."