In the days leading up to the 147th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1), US Racing is profiling all the contenders. The 1 ¼-mile Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs is May 1 and is the first leg of the Triple Crown. All profiles will be updated with post positions, odds, and jockeys following the draw on Tuesday, April 27.
By Lynne Snierson
Midnight Bourbon comes into the race as “the other Asmussen” but it might prove unwise to dismiss this colt in favor of Arkansas Derby winner and stablemate Super Stock. That comes straight from the Hall of Fame trainer himself.
“He’s a horse who has incrementally improved. He started off the year very solid. I’m a numbers person and his numbers keep incrementally improving with perfect timing. He’s sitting on the race of his life,” said Asmussen, who has won two Eclipse Awards as top trainer and trained three Horses of the Year in Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, and Gun Runner.
Midnight Bourbon thrived at the Fair Grounds all winter, running first, third, and second in the track’s three-race graded stakes and Kentucky Derby 2021 qualifying race series for 3-year-olds while stretching out from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles to 1 3/16 miles each time. Last time out in the Louisiana Derby he raced in the path wider than winner Hot Rod Charlie around both turns and was only beaten two lengths. Was the trip the deciding factor for the loss? Time will tell.
What is known now is that Midnight Bourbon is peaking at the right time. On April 11, he fired a bullet breeze for 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 and it was the fastest of 15 horses working the same distance.
“He’s an absolutely beautiful specimen. He’s got a high cruising speed in a race that obviously appears to have a lot of pace in it. I love where he’s at in his confidence level right now,” said Asmussen.
Asmussen has won the Preakness twice, the Belmont, the Dubai World Cup, and seven Breeders’ Cups but in 21 tries, the sixth most attempts in history, the Kentucky Derby has eluded him. Many of the horses he’s led over have been owned by longtime clients, the Winchell Family. Starting with the late patriarch Verne Winchell and now owned and managed by son Ron Winchell, the family is 0-for-13 in the race.
“These are incredible circumstances,” Asmussen said at the prospect of running Midnight Bourbon and Super Stock. “The lead up to it is going to be extremely exciting. Everything is positive. Mike Smith is going to ride Midnight Bourbon. There is a lot of connection with the Winchells. There is a lot of connection with Mike. It’s just amazing to be in this position at this time.”
As for position, Midnight Bourbon likes to race up on the pace and there is a lot of speed in the Derby field. But he is bred to stay the trip as his sire, 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow, won back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Classics in 2000-01 and his maternal line descend from 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
Post position: TBD
Jockey: Mike Smith
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds
Career record: 7-2-2-3
Career earnings: $461,420
Derby qualifying points: 66 (10th)
Top Equibase speed figure: 99
Pedigree: Tiznow-Catch the Moon by Malibu Moon
Running style: On the pace
Notes: Asmussen has two chances to win the Derby this year and will saddle Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock for his parents, Marilyn and Keith, and ERV Woolsey…. Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith has had 26 Derby mounts from 1984-2020, with a record of 2-4-1. Of those two wins, the most recent was aboard eventual Triple Crown champion Justify in 2018 and the other was when he pulled off the 50-1 upset aboard Giacomo in 2005 … Midnight Bourbon was bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet and brought $525,000 as a yearling in the Keeneland September sale … His dam, Catch the Moon, was unraced but has excelled as a broodmare. All four of her foals of racing age and half-siblings to Midnight Bourbon are winners and three are graded stakes winners, including Grade 1 winner Girvin, who earned $1.625 million on the track…The Winchells owned homebreds Untapable, champion 3-year-old filly and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Tapizar and Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly. All were trained by Asmussen. They also own super sire Tapit.
Lynne Snierson, a former director of communications at Arlington Park and Rockingham Park, currently is a freelance writer and racing publicist. She covered thoroughbred racing as an award-winning sportswriter for newspapers In Boston, Miami, and St. Louis. She lives in New Hampshire. Secretariat remains her all-time favorite horse.