With a Sunland Park double in their Derby and Oaks, Hill ‘n' Dale Farm's young sire Midnight Lute scored successes that confound simple analysis of stallion potential and performance. The stallion's son Govenor Charlie won the Sunland Park Derby by five lengths for owner-breeder Mike Pegram, and the Midnight Lute filly Midnight Lucky won the Sunland Park Oaks by eight lengths for Pegram, Watson, and Weitman, who also campaigned Midnight Lute. Both are trained by Bob Baffert, as were Midnight Lute and his sire, Real Quiet.
A resounding champion as a sprinter on the racetrack with victories at 4 and 5 in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint, Midnight Lute was not pedigreed to be a specialist sprinter, and his performance at stud has been in keeping with his bloodlines, more so than his racetrack performances.
This is not surprising, as the stallion's sire is the champion and premier 10-furlong performer Real Quiet, whose best races came with victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Pimlico Special. As a sire, Real Quiet did not reproduce himself with a classic-winning colt. His best son was Midnight Lute, although some of his best daughters performed at the highest level at classic distances.
A tall and elegant horse of classic proportions, Real Quiet did not typically sire the broad and precociously muscled type of yearling preferred by the sales market. As a result, most breeders abandoned the horse quickly, with better mares moving to stallions with more saleable produce.
One exception was Midnight Lute's co-breeder Trackside Farm, whose owner Tom Evans said, “Real Quiet had runners by the time we decided to send Candytuft to him, and in addition to fitting the stud fee range we could afford for the mare, the reason to make that mating was that I loved Real Quiet's profile. He was a really beautiful horse, and we thought the match was what the mare needed to add some stretch to the foal.”
After the mare had foaled in 2002, she went to Real Quiet in May and did not conceive. The breeders' options were to send Candytuft to the stallion in June or pass and breed her early the following year. They opted for the first, and Evans said, “I remember that every time I send a mare to a stallion in June. Midnight Lute was a May 13 foal,” and that is typically considered a non-commercial foaling date.
In the case of Midnight Lute, it didn't matter. The yearling colt combined his dam's correct conformation and general attractiveness with the sire's scope and class to produce a very nice specimen. For breeders Trackside Farm (Tom Evans and Pam Clark), Macon Wilmil (Ted Forrest), and Marjac Farms (Rich Burke), the colt was a resounding commercial success, selling for $70,000 at the 2004 Keeneland September yearling sale to Tom McGreevey.
Evans approached the buyer after the sale to thank him, and McGreevey said, “I was always going to buy that colt,” Evans recalled.
Pinhooked the following spring to the sales of juveniles in training in Florida, Midnight Lute was an RNA at $290,000 and sold after the auction. Trainer Bob Baffert, who had selected Real Quiet at auction, was instrumental in the acquisition of the stallion's best racing son for Pegram and partners.
Another take on the potential of Midnight Lute as a stallion comes from my associate at DataTrack International, pedigree commentator Robert Fierro. He noted that, on the results of the stallion's biomechanical profile, “We loved Midnight Lute. His profile on one of our programs was very unusual for a horse his size, in that he matches nearly 50 percent of the mares in our test book. That is very unusual for a horse as big as Midnight Lute,” who towers over man and beast at 17 hands-plus.
Fierro continued, “In size, Midnight Lute is in a category of his own. Stallions like him usually project to be modest at best, but what tipped the scale for him is that he matched a number of modest-sized mares, which is unusual but very beneficial, as the norms of the breed tend to breed toward the horses of that size.”
One of the implications of Midnight Lute's results on his biomechanics is that it appeared he would get racers who would appreciate racing two turns, rather than simply sprinting, as many people would have expected from a racehorse who was “limited” to sprinting himself.
Although Midnight Lute showed his best form by clubbing his contemporaries with come from behind finishes at sprint distances, he did race successfully at longer distances, and his natural aptitude was clearly suitable for racing at longer distances from his size, scope, balance, and physical proportions.
Midnight Lute's offspring are consistently showing that they appreciate the opportunity to mature and race distances of a mile, at least, and there is plenty of reason to expect that they will continue to improve at even longer distances as opportunities come to them.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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