Dangerous to Slight Lecomte Breakout

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Call Me Midnight, driving in the dark to a Lecomte win Saturday
Hodges Photography

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With so much background noise over the tragic Medina Spirit (Protonico), few have given due attention to another poignant context for the potential elevation of Mandaloun (Into Mischief) as official winner of the 2021 GI Kentucky Derby. If the next name on the roll of honor happens to be Call Me Midnight (Midnight Lute), however, then perhaps more of us will renew our gratitude to the late Prince Khalid Abdullah for a legacy well measured by the performance of both horses at Fair Grounds last Saturday.

The founder of Juddmonte Farms died just four days before Mandaloun began his eventful sophomore campaign with third in the GIII Lecomte S. last year. Even as things stand, it is instructive of the standards set by the Juddmonte team that he proceeded to become their third runner-up from just six Derby starters. (The others, also homebred, being Aptitude {A.P. Indy} and Empire Maker {Unbridled} in 2000 and 2003 respectively.)

Those standards are so unstinting that breeders at every level avidly contest the mares culled by Juddmonte, who routinely top the bill at Tattersalls every December. A rare exception, however, was the one who gave us Call Me Midnight–winner of the Lecomte half an hour after Mandaloun, making a rather slicker start to his third campaign than to his second, won the GIII Louisiana S.

Overseen (First Defence) cost Hartwell Farm just $16,000 deep into the Keeneland November Sale of 2013, when offered through Mill Ridge as an unraced juvenile. As we'll see, she represents one of the great Juddmonte dynasties. But her dam had become a disappointing producer, while Overseen herself was so dismally lacking in size–as wittily implied in her naming–that her buyers immediately repented, trying (but failing) to discard her only weeks later at Fasig-Tipton's Mixed February Sale.

Fortunately Robbie and Susie Lyons of Hartwell have the good sense–so uncommon among breeders today, despite the vagaries of this business–to mate mares on the premise that the resulting foal might at least run if, for any reason, it can't sell. So instead of chasing those fleeting vogues that spark and fade around unproven stallions, Overseen was in 2018 sent to Midnight Lute.

Midnight Lute | Sarah Andrew

As it happens, that same spring the Hill 'n' Dale stallion had a sophomore filly on the rise in California, named Midnight Bisou. But there has always been far more to Midnight Lute than his headline act. Over the past two years, indeed, he has mustered his fourth and fifth Grade I winners–Keeper Ofthe Stars (Gamely S.) and Smooth Like Strait (Shoemaker Mile, and only caught late in Breeders' Cup Mile)–while maintaining a fee of just $15,000.

The mating that produced Call Me Midnight most blatantly entwined two lines of Fappiano, through his sons Quiet American and Unbridled: respectively the grandsires of Midnight Lute, via Real Quiet; and damsire First Defence, via Unbridled's Song. But while Fappiano is obviously a potent dirt Classic brand, not least through the endeavors of Empire Maker, Call Me Midnight's candidature for the Triple Crown trail is greatly fortified by Overseen's granddam: the Juddmonte foundation mare, G1 Epsom Oaks runner-up Slightly Dangerous (Roberto).

By the early 1990s this was perhaps the most glamorous broodmare in Europe. Her second foal was the brilliant miler Warning (GB), a son of Prince Khalid's first stallion Known Fact (and a fragile European footprint for Man o' War via Diktat {GB}, Dream Ahead and now Al Wukair {Ire}). And while Juddmonte would experience rare disappointment in the stud career of its charismatic Arc winner Dancing Brave, Slightly Dangerous nonetheless managed to provide him with a Derby winner in Commander in Chief (GB). In addition, she produced three foals to emulate her own status as Classic runners-up: Dushyantor (Sadler's Wells) in the Derby (later multiple champion sire of Chile); Deploy (GB) (Shirley Heights {GB}) in the Irish version; and Yashmak (Danzig) in the Irish Oaks. The latter went on to win the GI Flower Bowl Invitational, securing her dam new distinction locally, as 1997 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year.

After Yashmak, Slightly Dangerous managed two more foals by Danzig. Since the last was an unraced colt, her final bequest was effectively Jibe, second in the G1 Fillies' Mile at Ascot as a juvenile and a stakes winner over 10 furlongs at three. And this is the dam of Overseen.

As already indicated, Jibe had proved an ineffective conduit of her own dam's prowess by the time Overseen was moved on so cheaply. Of her eight foals, in fact, only one managed to win; the others either never made it onto the track, or shouldn't have bothered. But there are embers to this family that can still be stoked: the solitary winner out of Jibe, a filly by Empire Maker, went on to produce 'TDN Rising Star' Taraz (Into Mischief), who looked a special talent a couple of years ago in winning her first three starts for Brad Cox, only to suffer a catastrophic injury one morning at Oaklawn. She was a gigantic specimen, but little Overseen has herself already produced (from four starters to date) a Bayern filly, built on the same modest lines but beaten only a head in a juvenile stakes at Woodbine in 2019.

These recent distinctions had been preceded, in the wider family, by Yashmak's son Full Mast (Mizzen Mast), who won the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere; while a sister to Deploy produced two Group winners, and also features as second dam of two Group 1-placed colts (notably G2 Hardwicke S. winner Await the Dawn {Giant's Causeway}) and third dam of a G1 South Australian Derby winner. But Call Me Midnight really needs to keep progressing to reinvigorate a family that so aptly represents Prince Khalid's legacy to the breed. His damsire First Defence, remember, is a son of Honest Lady (Seattle Slew)–who shared her dam, the Juddmonte matriarch Toussaud (El Gran Senor), with Empire Maker among others–while Slightly Dangerous herself was acquired way back in 1982, in the same month that the Prince celebrated his first homebred winner.

Toussaud | Horsephotos

Slightly Dangerous had then just won the G3 Fred Darling S., a traditional signpost to the Classics, and was a granddaughter of Evelyn Olin's Noblesse (GB), the outstanding juvenile of 1962 and 10-length winner of the Oaks in a light career. Noblesse was also confined to a relatively limited output in the paddocks, but all five of her foals were stakes performers and included Where You Lead (Raise a Native)–herself runner-up in the Oaks, just as would in due course become the case of her daughter Slightly Dangerous.

It was only a few weeks after acquiring Slightly Dangerous that Prince Khalid doubled down on the family by buying a yearling (at the same auction where he found the dam of Danehill) by Blushing Groom (Fr) out of Slightly Dangerous's Group-winning half-sister I Will Follow (Herbager {Fr}). This would become Rainbow Quest, Arc winner and multiple Classic sire/damsire.

So this is a family saturated with Classic quality. A lot of people are dismissing Call Me Midnight as owing his day in the sun to a pace meltdown. But while his running style won't help in the modern Derby, which lacks the speed pressure of old since the exclusion of sprinters by the points system, we know to respect the Fair Grounds talent pool nowadays. And hindsight lends a coherent shape to his development. Sure, he took five juvenile attempts to break his maiden–but that represents a useful foundation of experience and he improved every time (bar a mad attempt to burn them off in :21.66 in a sprint, hardly his metier as it turns out). He was rubbing shoulders with some good horses along the way, for instance in chasing home subsequent GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile third Giant Game (Giant's Causeway) at Keeneland. Moreover he has won over the Derby track, and probably hadn't soaked up that effort when suffering a messy trip anyway in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. a couple of weeks later. All in all he'll have more going for him, entering the gate for the GII Risen Star S., than did Country House (Lookin At Lucky) at the same stage.

Call Me Midnight's Churchill maiden win Nov. 13 | Coady

It would admittedly be startling if he could keep ahead of that particular curve, as a horse who has already been through the ring four times. Hartwell got $25,000 for him as a Keeneland November weanling, from Milton Lopez; and, though a $37,000 RNA in the same ring the following September, he was allowed to go for $17,000 through Beth Bayer to Team Work Horseman Group at OBS the following month. That winter, however, he obviously began to get it together and he proved a very efficient pinhook when realizing $80,000 from Peter Cantrell for Navas Equine back at OBS March.

So there have been winners already, while Mr. Cantrell has 10 Derby points in the bank and Hartwell Farm can now hope to reap its rewards from Overseen's future stock. And there are actually gains to be made by us all, if Midnight Lute could get a Derby winner.

His standout Midnight Bisou emerged from a monster book assembled after his first sophomores caught fire with two Grade I winners, a Classic-placed colt and a colt and filly who both broke track records in respectively winning the Sunland Park Derby and Oaks by an aggregate 13 lengths. But before Midnight Bisou had even made her juvenile bow, her sire had already dwindled from 186 mares to 56–a classic example of the childish brevity of commercial attention. Through all these ups and downs, Midnight Lute has established a lifetime clip of 10% stakes performers and 5% graded stakes performers, to named foals, which stacks up competitively enough against many a more expensive rival.

The first of Midnight Lute's Breeders' Cup Sprints | Sarah Andrew

In the process, he has also established a capacity to draw out the two-turn reserves latent in his pedigree. His own career, as a dual winner of the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint, was famously a case of Bob Baffert managing the horse's wind troubles; no less notorious was his sheer scale, at 17 hands, while his own sire's exceptional caliber as a Classic performer was never matched by his opportunities at stud. One way or another Midnight Lute, elegantly proportioned within all that power, channelled his talent with exceptional flair for an unprecedented sprint Beyer of 124. And he has long proved a flexible match for his mares: while initially making his name with single-turn dashers like Shakin It Up and Midnight Lucky, he has since diversified his impact across many disciplines.

Should all else fail, indeed, connections of Call Me Midnight have the option of turf up their sleeve: we've seen all the European royalty behind the dam, while the sire's last two Grade I scores both came on grass. Midnight Lute's third dam, after all, was by Sea-Bird II (Fr) and the next two both won the Italian Oaks; and he was very adaptable himself, in terms of surface, bursting clear on the slop for his first Breeders' Cup and running 1:07.08 on synthetics for his second, besides setting a stakes record on the storied dirt of the GI Forego.

But the real spur to further achievement for Call Me Midnight, did he but know it, is the momentous vacancy available to any male that can salvage this tenuous branch of the Fappiano line.

You can't put a price on that. Quiet American is a Nerud/Tartan Farms time capsule, with the top-and-bottom duplication of two of the great postwar mares in Aspidistra and Cequillo: a genetic goldmine that measures up even to the way Overseen balances Slightly Dangerous and Toussaud. And their combination will surely have many of us in his corner, as Call Me Midnight continues to explore a shared legacy in the hoofprints of Mandaloun.

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