ARLINGTON HEIGHTS — “It feels great to be back,” said trainer Michael Tomlinson after MIDNIGHT CELLO won today’s Grade III Hanshin Cup.
It had been nine years since trainer Tomlinson had won a stakes at Arlington Park. Casino Evil, the one-eyed colt with the tongue-in-cheek name, won the listed Round Table Stakes at Arlington in 2006. Tomlinson trained Casino Evil for Haps Stable, a partnership between Paul Hanifl and Vince Foglia. Nine years after Casino Evil’s Round Table triumph, his owners are still involved in racing, and still working with Tomlinson. Hanifl now races under the banner of Suzanne Stables. Their horse Barbados, who Tomlinson trains, won the Hutcheson Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream in January of this year. Foglia, still a familiar face on the Illinois racing circuit, races as Patricia’s Hope LLC. With Tomlinson as trainer, Patricia’s Hope claimed MIDNIGHT CELLO for $100,000 at Gulfstream in December. After three tries on the dirt on which he finished off the board, Tomlinson sent MIDNIGHT CELLO here to try polytrack for the first time.
This year’s renewal of the Hanshin Cup, a $100,000 race going a mile over the polytrack, drew an original field of nine. However, only seven actually saw the starter today. Taken by the Storm suffered a bout of colic yesterday and was scratched, and Hammers Terror was a trainer scratch the day of the race. HOGY, who won this race two years ago, took the lion’s share of the betting interest from first flash to the time the gates opened. He was 7/5 early, and settled down at even money by the time the race started. AGENT DI NOZZO, an allowance winner at Churchill two starts back, settled as the 4/1 second choice. MISTER MARTI GRAS, second in this race in both 2013 and 2014, went off the slight third choice at 4.1/1.
The race was delayed as a storm cell, the second of the day, passed through. Though showers remained, the horses proceeded from paddock to gate once the lightning subsided.
Much of the field broke sharply, but on a weekend when early pace had been holding fast, it was HOGY who got the coveted front spot. STORMY PACIFIC chased closest as the field left the chute, but he was well off the rail. That left plenty of room inside. MIDNIGHT CELLO had taken up the rear early, but rider Florent Geroux sent him along. He split MISTER MARTI GRAS and LAHSHAD. Just after HOGY clicked off the opening quarter in 24.37, MIDNIGHT CELLO assumed that lead. Pressed by HOGY still, he quickened the pace; he half was 47.41.
By the time the field turned for home, the top pair remained in command: MIDNIGHT CELLO stayed the course, with HOGY trying to mount a rally. The only runner from the rest of the pack who looked to be mounting a credible run was a familiar face from the exotics of the Hanshin Cup: MISTER MARTI GRAS.
While HOGY flattened, MIDNIGHT CELLO found more. He opened up his lead approaching the wire, and galloped home 5 1/2 lengths in the clear. MISTER MARTI GRAS kept on coming, and though he never got close to the winner, he finished half a length in front of HOGY, notching his third straight second-place finish in the Hanshin Cup. LAHSHAD, taking up the rear for much of the race, got up for fourth, another 5 1/2 lengths adrift of HOGY. STORMY PACIFIC, AGENT DI NOZZO, and EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN completed the order of finish.
MIDNIGHT CELLO is a five-year-old gelding by Midnight Lute out of the Johannesburg mare Mocella. Trained by Michael Tomlinson and owned by Patricia’s Hope LLC, MIDNIGHT CELLO earned his first career stakes victory with today’s Hanshin Cup win. The race was also MIDNIGHT CELLO’s first career attempt on a synthetic surface. “The Midnight Lutes love [synthetic surfaces]”, he said, “The Johannesburgs are even more prone to synthetic. His pedigree was crying out for it.” The one-turn mile configuration also made the Hanshin an ideal target for Tomlinson’s charge. “We’d been looking for a one-turn race. I think his strength is the extended one-turn races. We’re going to continue to look for those on dirt and poly, or whatever we can get on.”
Despite the slow start, rider Florent Geroux was confident throughout with MIDNIGHT CELLO. “My horse bobbled a little bit in the gate,” stated Geroux, “but I was able to weave my way through, and made the lead quite comfortably. From that point when I asked him to go, while turning for home, he responded very well.”
“He tried,” stated jockey Chris Emigh, of his mount HOGY. “The 2 horse [MIDNIGHT CELLO] was just too much, and he couldn’t catch him.”
MIDNIGHT CELLO paid his backers $13.00 to win. The $2 exacta with him over MISTER MARTI GRAS returned $51.80. A trifecta with HOGY slotted in third came back with $36.60 for each $0.50 base bet. The dime superfecta with LAHSHAD underneath paid $36.55.
Photograph courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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