HOT SPRINGS, AR – The long-awaited showdown in Saturday’s Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park lived up to the hype when a trio of G1 winners fought hard in the stretch before Midnight Bisou surged ahead late for the win.
Breaking from post 2 under Mike Smith as the 6/5 second choice, Midnight Bisou settled into an inside stalking position behind the rail-breaking Tapa Tapa Tapa, who set opening fractions of :24.51 and :48.81. The small field of five was tightly-bunched as they entered the far turn, which is where last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) champion Shamrock Rose made her move for the lead. Emerging onto the top of the stretch in command, Shamrock Rose was soon met with a challenge by multiple G1 winner Elate. Behind them, Midnight Bisou tipped off the rail to get around a weakening Tapa Tapa Tapa, then shot back inside of Shamrock Rose to make it a three-way tussle for the finish line. Advancing forward with every stride, the Steve Asmussen trainee hit the wire 1 length ahead in a final time of 1:42.72 for the 1 1/16-mile event over the fast main track.
“She was loaded,” Smith said. “I basically placed her and she the rest. She’s doing really well today.”
Making her first start since narrowly losing the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) last August, Elate finished strongly as the even-money favorite, defeating Shamrock Rose by a length. Tapa Tapa Tapa faded in the stretch to finish fourth ahead of last year’s Alabama Stakes (G1) winner Eskimo Kisses, who never improved from last and completed the order of finish. Summer’s Indy was a stewards scratch.
Midnight Bisou’s win was her second straight following a late-running score in January’s Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (G3) and improved her overall record to 13-7-3-3. The 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute, purchased at auction for $80,000, has now earned $1,955,000 for co-owners Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables, and Allen Racing.
“It’s all Midnight Bisou,” Asmussen said. “She’s a very special mare. She’s been training incredibly well all winter. She’s been spot on and looked beautiful. I thought she proved her quality today. Today’s Azeri had four G1 winners in it, and for her to come out on top is very special.”
On moving on to the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 14: “I’ll have to talk to (owner) Jeff (Bloom) and see how she comes out of the race, but that would be the plan.”
Midnight Bisou returned $4.40 to win, $2.40 to place, and $2.10 to show. Elate brought back $2.60 to place and $2.20 to show, while Shamrock Rose paid $2.60 to show.