Midnight Stroll hurries to Delaware Oaks win

Here’s a safe bet: the next time Eric Cancel has the opportunity to ride in a graded stake at Delaware Park, he’ll be there with bells on.

Cancel, a 25-year-old native of Puerto Rico, was in the irons on Midnight Stroll to win a thrilling and hard-fought renewal of the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks. He enjoyed it so much that a half-hour or so later, he piloted Main Event to a victory in the Grade 3 Kent Stakes.

He did Meatloaf one better: two out of two ain’t bad.

The Oaks was an especially eventful contest. 

The John Terranova-trained Midnight Stroll, owned by Gatsas Stables, R. A. Hill Stable, and Steven Schoenfeld, entered with perhaps mixed credentials: two wins, one in a Florida-bred stake, from five starts. On the page, though, her prior start, in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan, didn’t look like much: a Beyer Speed Figure of 70 and a well-beaten ninth-place finish.

But Cancel’s review of the replay told him that race was better than it looked.

“She broke a little bit slow. Then she tried to get position, and they just knocked her out,” he said. “She had to sit a wide trip the whole way, and even though she had to sit a wide trip, she still tried to keep on going.”

Cancel, aboard Midnight Stroll for the first time on race day, was able to give the sophomore daughter of Not This Time a close to ideal trip.

She broke well but was quickly willing to cede the advantage to a four-horse vanguard with Unadulterated and Chardonnay the fastest of all. Those two sped through an opening quarter-mile in 23.10 seconds, with Cancel and Midnight Stroll content along the inside in fifth, four lengths back.

Up the backstretch, Chardonnay threw in the towel, and Unadulterated opened up to lead by four through a half-mile in 46.69.

“Her best two races have been on the lead,” Cancel said. “But today there was a little bit more speed. I just got a comfortable trip with her.”

As the field rounded the far turn, Midnight Stroll broke away from the pack to take aim at Unadulterated, and past the five-sixteenths, he blew past that runner.

But post-time favorite Shotgun Hottie, with Delaware native Trevor McCarthy up, soon was on the scene to confront the leader.

Those two hooked up at the head of the lane and battled the length of the stretch while drifting out towards the center of the track. Midnight Stroll held off his rival to win by a head – it was another four length back to show horse Morning Matcha – but McCarthy, aboard the runner-up, objected that the winner had floated him out and bumped.

Shortly, the stewards ruled: no change.

“I wasn’t worried about it,” Cancel said of the objection. “I did come out to the horse a little bit, but I wasn’t the one that made contact. He angled his horse into me a little bit, you know?”

While the outcome was in marked contrast to Midnight Stroll’s prior heat, it didn’t surprise the betting public. They made her the 2.60-1 second choice in the seven-horse field. She paid $7.20 to win and topped an exacta that returned $13.20 on a one-dollar wager.

Cancel wasn’t surprised about the outcome either. He’d breezed the filly last time, he said, and liked what he felt beneath him. She breezed five furlongs in 1:01 ⅗ June 26 at Belmont Park.

“I felt a lot of confidence on her just because I worked her last time, and she was very good,” the rider said.

A half-hour later – this time without objection – Cancel was back in the winner’s circle after piloting Main Event to victory in the Kent, a $200,000 Grade 3 for three-year-olds on the Delaware lawn.

Main Event, a stakes winner already for trainer George Weaver and Harrell Ventures LLC, had won the Cutler Bay two back before being a well-beaten seventh in the Grade 2 American Turf on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

He caught some class relief here, and Cancel was able to give the field the slip, leading by three with a furlong to go, which proved plenty of cushion to hold off favored Elizar in the lane.

NOTES The Alapocas Run Stakes earlier on the card, a six-furlong sprint for older runners, went to seemingly ageless Delaware lover Whereshetoldmetogo, ridden by Jevian Toledo for trainer Brittany Russell. That same duo hooked up later in the afternoon to win the Caesar’s Wish Stakes at Laurel Park with Hybrid Eclipse… Sparkle Blue, ridden by Jeremy Rose for Graham Motion, scored a 15-1 upset in the Christiana Stakes, surviving a lengthy inquiry and objection to get her first stakes win…