By Tom Archdeacon, Staff WriterUpdated 10:41 PM Thursday, May 17, 2012
Asked what he liked about her, Lee Midkiff started to beam:
“Her looks, I have to say that. When I first started looking at her I was absolutely blown away. She’s an absolutely gorgeous specimen. She carries herself well and has a very sweet temperament and, like I said, her looks are outstanding. Just outstanding.”
Told that sounded like he might be gushing on the perfect girlfriend or wife, the Springboro equine entrepreneur laughed and shook his head.
For him, the rest of his Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and co-owner Gary Barber, she is the perfect race horse.
Her name is In Lingerie.
And today he hopes she makes the rest of the dames look like they’re wearing outdated drawers.
The 3-year-old bay filly is the morning line’s third favorite (9-2) in this afternoon’s $300,000 Black Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. She’s trained by Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by John Velasquez.
The 11/8 mile race for fillies — a Grade II stakes race that will have a nine-horse field today — is considered to be something akin to the second leg of the female version of the Triple Crown. It precedes Saturday’s Preakness just as the Kentucky Oaks came a day before the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago at Churchill Downs and The Acorn will do the same with the Belmont Stakes in New York in June.
The Black Eyed Susan is the feature event today in what is pretty much a Girls Rule show at Pimlico. Most of the undercard races are for fillies or mares. Two separate events will focus on female riders: the $30,000 Pimlico Female Jockey Challenge — which will include women jocks like Rosie Napravnik, Greta Kuntzweiler, Rosemary Homeister Jr. and Emma Jayne Wilson — and the Lady Legends for the Cure race featuring eight retired women riders.
“They’re following the trend Churchill does on Oaks Day so everybody will be in pink,” said Midkiff, who’ll be in a pink shirt.
His two children travel with him to almost all races so that means 5-year-old son Holden and 10-year-old daughter Chloe will be decked out in pink, as well.
“Best of all, a percentage of In Lingerie’s earnings from the race will be donated to the Cincinnati affiliate of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure organization,” Midkiff said. “It’s nice to have an opportunity to run one of our horses on behalf of a local charity.”
A wild ride
Although she is Kentucky bred (her sire is Empire Maker, her dam Cat Chat), In Lingerie is tied to the Miami Valley thanks to the 37-year-old Midkiff.
No one in this area has been on a wilder thoroughbred ride of late than the former CEO of Springboro-based CIN Legal Data Services. He formed Eclipse just nine months ago with Aron Wellman, a California attorney and well-known horseman.
Since then they’ve already acquired 15 highly considered thoroughbreds. They’ve won several stakes races around the country, finished third in the $1 million Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf race last November and have a filly running in the prestigious Royal Ascot in England next month.
The Eclipse partners, each of whom owns a small piece of one or several horses, include people from across the U.S. and Canada.
“Partnerships are the way for a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have the means or connections to compete in the top level of racing to do so,” Midkiff said. “I believe it’s good for the industry.”
A year ago, he was as one of the 20 partners of the Team Valor syndicate that owned Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. Before that he’d also had a share in Pluck, the winner of the $1 million Breeders Cup Juvenile.
After last year’s Preakness, he and Wellman, who was the Team Valor vice president, decided to start their own syndicate group, which is now based both in Springboro and Del Mar, Calif.
“With all the success Valor has had, I like to use an analogy of an NBA team or a college team that wins the championship.” Midkiff said. “After that some of the assistant coaches try to take it to the next level and become head coaches themselves. It’s kind of a natural progression.”
Midkiff said he still has ownership shares of some 20 Team Valor horses and is still involved in its state of the art training center near Baltimore that he helped finance. While Wellman deals with the acquisition of Eclipse’s horses, Midkiff handles much of the business end and has recruited many of the syndicate partners, including Marty Grunder, the owner of Grunder Landscaping in Miamisburg, who is one of In Lingerie’s nine Eclipse partners.
Midkiff said their organization plans to add a horse a month over the next year, with several of the thoroughbreds coming from Europe, especially the United Kingdom.
Change of course
Teaming up with Hollywood film producer Gary Barber, the CEO of both MGM and Spyglass Entertainment, Eclipse Partners purchased In Lingerie from Warren Lyster immediately after the filly broke her maiden in her first race ever at Turfway Park on Jan. 12.
They sent her to Florida to be trained by Pletcher, who ran her at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 25. It was her only race on dirt. She balked a bit going into the gate and finished second to Zo Impressive.
A month later, back on the Polytrack oval at Turfway, she went wire to wire in the Bourbonette Oaks, blowing away the field by six lengths.
The group then had planned to run the filly in the much-trumped Kentucky Oaks — with its $1 million purse and roaring crowd of over 112,000 — but changed course a week before the race.
“In the end, it’s our responsibility to do what’s best for her,” Midkiff said. “She’s lightly raced and with everything that goes on at the Oaks, we didn’t want to put too much on her plate or burn her out. So we picked the Black Eyed Susan as her launching pad for a strong set of races we’d like to have for her at Belmont and Saratoga.
“Bob Baffert made a similar decision with his filly Mamma Kimbo this year and she’ll be the horse to beat (today). And last year Royal Delta took a similar path. She didn’t run the Oaks, then won the Black Eyed Susan and had a highly successful path all the way to the Breeders Cup (where she won the Ladies’ Classic).”
Regularly running horses in some of the biggest races in the country is pretty heady stuff and that fact doesn’t escape Midkiff.
“A year ago I could not have predicted we’d be headed back to the Preakness this year under entirely different circumstances,” he said. “Last year we had the Kentucky Derby winner — and that’s still pretty surreal when I think about it — and now we have one of the top fillies for the Black Eyed Susan.
“I’ve been able to blend what really started as a hobby, kept the familial angle in it with my kids and transformed it into a real business opportunity. What could be better than that? It’s everything a guy could want.”
Put another way, it’s “an absolute gorgeous specimen” — In Lingerie.