I will never forget the first time I saw Battle of Midway run. It came in his career debut on January 21, 2017. For this lifelong fan of racing, it was the perfect storm that afternoon, watching the bay colt win at Santa Anita. He was handsome and well bred, from a sire that I always liked. The son of Smart Strike was from connections which I have great respect for, but most of all he displayed everything you want to see in a racehorse in that initial performance.
Carrying the familiar colors of Fox Hill Farm, and battling on the lead through crazy fast fractions, the first time starter had the talent, courage and class to pull away from his competition. That pace was enough to cook most any young horse, but not Battle of Midway. He immediately made his way onto my Kentucky Derby rankings. He also became a horse who I wanted to watch every time he ran.
Some horses just have that look. That special something in their physical makeup, or better yet, their heart and soul. Battle of Midway had both. On the track, he was a horse that could beat anyone on a given day. He was also consistent. There was an off race, or two, but it was a rare circumstance. As his career unfolded, though, it became clear that he was never the best horse of his crop, or division.
Don’t get me wrong, Battle of Midway had a very successful career. In fact, he was a Breeders’ Cup winner, a six-time stakes winner, and finished third in the Kentucky Derby. All told he won 8 times in a 16 race career and earned nearly 1.6 million dollars. Owned by Fox Hill, until Don Alberto Stable and WinStar Farm purchased him before America’s most prestigious race, and trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer throughout his career, he was always topnotch. In fact, after his 16th, and what would turn out to be his last career race, I truly believed that the mature version of Battle of Midway was finally ready to move to the head of the class of American racing.
Looking back, it came as a disappointment when I heard that Battle of Midway was being retired after his 3-year-old season. After all, his excellent year of racing, had also been his first on the track. He accomplished an awful lot in that initial season, though. He won five of ten, with nine in the money finishes. More than that, though, he demonstrated on several occasions what a tough son of a gun he was. His Santa Anita Derby, in which he finished a narrowly beaten second was as game as could be. That courage was on display at Churchill Downs when he finished a very good third in the Kentucky Derby for his new owners.
He came back from that Derby run to notch his first two stakes wins in his next three races at Santa Anita and Del Mar respectively. Upset by Untrapped in the Oklahoma Derby, Battle of Midway came back to California for his final race at three as a bit of an underdog. In what would be his most important career win, we may forget just how well he ran in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Hung out wide for the entire race, Battle of Midway not only outperformed his 14-1 odds, he ran one of the best races of 2017. In a field that included stars such as Accelerate, Mor Spirit, Cupid, and Practical Joke, he was the only one who could reel in the impressive speed of Sharp Azteca. On his best, Sharp Azteca was nearly unbeatable. Battle of Midway beat him. With the rest of the field far behind, he looked him in the eye, and he beat his older rival. It was an absolutely ideal way to head off to the stallion barn.
But of course, it would not be the end of his racing career. Subfertile was the word used to describe his first year at stud at WinStar farm. It seems a harsh word, but lest we never forget that this is a business. With only five of the 60 mares he covered impregnated, it was announced that the talented racehorse would once again be a racehorse. His second season of racing began on August 25, 2018, nearly ten months after his shining win in the Breeders’ Cup.
As you would expect following a stint in the stallion barn, it took a little time for Battle of Midway to return to his very best, but in his third and fourth starts back, the 4-year-old colt paired back-to-back stakes wins at Santa Anita and Del Mar. In his fifth race back, on opening day at Santa Anita, I actually thought he ran one of his typical bang-up races only to lose the decision to Gift Box in the San Antonio Stakes. That tough defeat would be a prelude to a sensational beginning to his 5-year-old season.
I never could have believed that it would be the final time I would ever see Battle of Midway, but in what sadly turned out to be his final race, he turned in a quintessential performance. Piloted by his familiar rider, Flavien Prat, and facing an heir apparent to the older male division, he collared McKinzie every step of the way in the February 2 San Pasqual Stakes. The favorite, coming off a monster performance in winning the Grade 1 Malibu, ran his race, but it was to no avail. Battle of Midway would not be denied. In one minute, 46 seconds and change, Battle of Midway summed up just what kind of racehorse he was.
And that is how I will remember the son of Smart Strike and Rigoletta. His good looks shining through the slop, and his talent, courage, and class proving a little too much for a very good horse in McKinzie. He needed to reach down deep for something extra, much like he had many times in his career, and he did. He did, and he won.
Battle of Midway’s life came to a sudden, tragic end on Saturday when he severely injured himself during a morning workout at Santa Anita. The breaking of his rear pastern was so severe that he could not be saved. It would be easy to blame the racing surface at one of America’s premier racetracks, believed to be made unsafe by heavy rains that hit Southern California during the winter, but this is not about assigning blame.
Rather this a celebration of an excellent racehorse lost far too soon. Handsome, talented, and tough as nails. I remember you … Battle of Midway.
Battle of Midway photo courtesy of Benoit Photo