Kentucky Derby Context: Midnight Bourbon

April 18th, 2021 horse racing analyst James Scully attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1981. Along with a brief profile of this year’s contenders, he is providing some historical context.

Midnight Bourbon has never finished out of the money from seven career starts. The hard-trying colt earned points in five consecutive qualifying races prior to the Kentucky Derby, including a victory in the Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds.

Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and trained by Steve Asmussen, Midnight Bourbon exits a pair of respectable efforts in his final preps, finishing third in the Risen Star S. (G2) and second in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

After a wire-to-wire win in the Lecomte, Midnight Bourbon closely tracked the pace in the last two outings. He will add the services of two-time Kentucky Derby winner Mike Smith at Churchill Downs.

His positional speed could be an advantage in a Kentucky Derby field lacking a confirmed pacesetter. If he breaks well, Midnight Bourbon is a candidate to be showing the way in the early stages.

His sire, Tiznow, did not compete in Triple Crown races, but the two-time Horse of the Year won his first Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs in 2000. Midnight Bourbon is a half-brother to three graded stakes winners including Girvin, who finished 13th in the 2017 Kentucky Derby after winning the Louisiana Derby.

The Kentucky Derby is one of the few major prizes in U.S. racing that has eluded Asmussen, who will also be represented by Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Super Stock this year. Winless from 21 starts, the Hall of Fame trainer has finished second twice, most recently with Lookin at Lee at 33-1 odds in 2017.

Winchell Thoroughbreds, which is operated by Joan Winchell and her son, Ron, is also seeking their first Kentucky Derby victory. Gun Runner, who finished third for Winchell and co-owners Three Chimneys Farm and Besilu Stables in 2016, is the best result from 10 previous starters over the last 40 years.

Tapit was another famous Kentucky Derby starter for Winchell Thoroughbreds. An eventual three-time leading sire, Tapit entered the 2004 edition following a victory in the Wood Memorial S. (G1). The Michael Dickinson-trained gray colt was bet down as the 6-1 third choice, but Tapit experienced a rough trip over the sloppy track, winding up ninth.

Asmussen and Winchell Thoroughbreds have been pursuing the Kentucky Derby for a long time, and toasts will be plentiful if Midnight Bourbon finally puts them in the winner’s circle.