[The following was written last week before the Kentucky Oaks on May 4, when Monomoy Girl won from last year’s Canadian champion juvenile filly Wonder Gadot (by Medaglia d’Oro) and Midnight Bisou.]
When the crowd of colts enters the starting gate at Churchill Downs, any one of six or possibly even eight of the contestants could win without generating a genuine upset. The apparent breadth of quality in this group of 3-year-old colts is something in itself to cheer for.
On the preceding day, however, there are a pair of strong choices for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. Both Monomoy Girl (by Tapizar), winner of the G1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland most recently, and Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lute), winner of the G1 Santa Anita Oaks, appear to be the standouts among the Oaks field, and a win by any other filly would be an upset.
But what would victory mean for the favorites?
In addition to the rich winner’s purse, the prestige of a filly classic victory, and the elevated status and value that accrue to the winner and her owners, the sire of a Kentucky Oaks winner gains status as a markedly more serious stallion.
John Sikura, who stands Midnight Lute at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm near Lexington, said “winners of the premier events are the thing that marks out a stallion as truly significant, and those winners are what draw breeders and buyers in significant numbers to support a stallion at every level.”
Following the 2018 successes by Midnight Bisou, Busher Stakes winner Midnight Disguise, their 4-year-old compatriot Sonneteer (Fifth Season Stakes), and two other stakes winners in 2018, Sikura said, “we are at a place with the horse now where we should have been all along, but the marketplace is unforgiving. You have to supply what it wants and do that consistently.”
Sikura continued, “You could say that we are the victims and the beneficiaries of the tides in the stallion market. Midnight Lute had a really good beginning to his stud career” with 11 stakes winners in his first crop, including G1 winners Shakin It Up (Malibu Stakes) and Midnight Lucky (Acorn). But the stallion’s third and fourth crops were not as strongly supported. “So there’s been some rise and fall in the horse’s reception among breeders and in the marketplace.”
In addition to market perceptions, Midnight Lute has had to do some path-making of his own as a stallion, despite his excellent racing record that includes two victories in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and an Eclipse Award as the champion sprinter of 2007.
After looking at the race record, breeders assess the pedigree. Midnight Lute is by the excellent racehorse Real Quiet (Quiet American), winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and as narrow a runner-up for the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown as could possibly be. A champion racer, Real Quiet was not close to that class as a sire; that circumstance is not unusual, but it inhibits breeders from applying their full confidence to the son of such a stallion.
Midnight Lute has overcome the prejudices admirably, but lack of confidence in a stallion prospect has not been a problem for the sire of Midnight Bisou’s competition (and pre-race favorite) Monomoy Girl. Her sire Tapizar went to stud at Gainesway Farm, which stands his sire Tapit, three-time leading sire and a powerful factor for speed, balance, athleticism and the mental integrity that makes a racehorse.
Tapizar retired sound after winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2012 and entered stud the next season. Gainesway’s Michael Hernon said a victory by Monomoy Girl in the Oaks “would vault Tapizar forward as a commercially viable stallion and give him additional credibility for getting an Oaks winner in only his second crop.
“Tapizar’s book has come along well since Monomoy Girl won the Ashland,” Hernon continued. “She is showing the quality of racing stock that Tapizar is capable of getting, and this horse is doing his part to extend the legacy of his great sire Tapit.”
In addition to his professional interest in seeing a daughter of the farm stallion do well, Hernon has a personal interest in Monomoy Girl as the co-breeder. He said, “It would mean a lot to be listed among the breeders of a winner of the Kentucky Oaks, and full credit goes to our co-breeders Brendan and Olive Gallaher of Frankfort Park Farm for their work with the filly.”
Speaking by phone from Churchill Downs, Hernon said “Monomoy Girl has progressed since the Ashland, and I believe she’s up to running a huge race. Given her pedigree, grandsire Tapit and Storm Cat, I would expect her to place herself in a prominent position and handle the going, no matter what it is. Tapit won the Wood Memorial on an off track, and this filly covers the ground very effectively. She might even move up her game on a wet track.”
Among other positive factors for Monomoy Girl is her familiarity with Churchill Downs, her home base and site of her victory in the Rags to Riches Stakes. Plus, Hernon believes the filly’s “natural speed and athleticism, in addition to a wonderful demeanor, make her the racehorse she is. Her composure makes her resilient in trying circumstances. We saw that at Keeneland in the Ashland, and that will be a positive factor here at Churchill Downs.”
One thing not in the big chestnut filly’s favor is her outside post position, one slot farther out than Eskimo Kisses (To Honor and Serve), who ran second in the Ashland. A granddaughter of Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors, Eskimo Kisses races for Gainesway Stable, Magdalena Racing, and Harold Lerner.
Hernon said “the strong suit for Eskimo Kisses is her late run, and she is a big, rangy filly who will only improve with time.” He believes the closers are the danger to the prominently placed Monomoy Girl, and “the most prominent closer is probably Midnight Bisou,” he said, “also by a Breeders’ Cup winner. She is going to get to run down one of the longest home stretches in America, and she will come with a bold run, and we wish her the best.”
Indeed, let’s raise a glass to all these good fillies, and especially to the one who will wear a wreath of lilies.