Can Midnight Aria claim Queen’s Plate contender status in Wando?
​TORONTO, May 3 - Midnight Aria, claimed by trainer Nick Gonzalez for owner Tucci Stables at Gulfstream Park in January, makes his stakes debut in Sunday's $150,000 Wando Stakes, at Woodbine.

Gonzalez claimed the strapping bay son of Midnight Lute, bred in Ontario by Yvonne Schwabe Thoroughbreds, for $35,000 out of a 1 1/8-mile maiden turf tilt on January 24, in which the colt rallied to be second, defeated a head.

"We recognized that he was an Ontario-bred and that's always important for us," said Gonzalez. "He's a big, good looking horse. I seen that he had sold for $80,000 as a yearling (at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale), so I figured he was going to be a good looking horse. When he came over to the paddock, I sure was pleased with what he looked like that day."

Midnight Aria returned to the races at Gulfstream three weeks later and wired an off-the-turf maiden special weight field over sloppy going.  With the colt in solid form, Gonzalez raced Midnight Aria twice more at Gulfstream, picking up cheques with a pair of third-place finishes in optional claiming turf events.

Now saddled with a rapidly improving horse, Gonzalez is hoping that Midnight Aria can step forward and prove to be a Queen's Plate contender in Sunday’s 1 1/6-mile test, as he takes on a star-studded field that includes Uncaptured, Canada's Horse of the Year, Grade 1 placed Dynamic Sky and Kingarvie Stakes champ, Pyrite Mountain.

"We didn't have any Queen's Plate visions when we claimed him, but things have turned out pretty good since we got him," admits Gonzalez. "We're happy with the way he's improved. His speed figures have gone up every race. He's a big horse and that probably has a lot to do with him improving."

Midnight Aria, who earned a 60 Beyer Speed Figure in the race he was claimed from, posted a 73 Beyer number in his most recent effort.  That rapid ascent, combined with a pair of solid works at Woodbine, in company with Grade 3 Grey Stakes champ River Seven and older mare Starship Universe, might have some handicappers thinking he can outrun his 20-1 morning line odds.

In fact, Starship Universe, also claimed by Gonzalez for the Tucci Stables over the winter at Gulfstream, set a lucrative precedent last weekend at Woodbine when a hard-fought second, defeated a head, at odds of 61-1 in the Grade 3 Whimsical Stakes won by Acting Naughty​.  

Could the Gulfstream turf to Woodbine 'Poly' angle play out favourably again in the Wando?

"If you have a horse that's decent on the turf, you never know when they get back home to Woodbine whether that form will transfer to being as good on the synthetic," says Gonzalez. "But, we were pleasantly surprised when we ran the filly, Starship Universe, on the Polytrack. She had never run on the Polytrack before, but was a very good turf horse.  She made the transition and we're hoping the big colt can too. He's had a couple nice breezes with River Seven on the Polytrack and we're going to find out if he belongs in another category in stakes races."

River Seven, yet to make his three-year-old debut, defeated both Tesseron and Uncaptured, who make their Woodbine return in the Wando, in October’s Grade 3 Grey.

"River Seven will go in the Queenston (on Saturday May 7)," says Gonzalez. "River Seven hasn't raced yet, so we'll start him at seven-eighths of a mile.  Midnight Aria has already run a mile and an eighth, so a mile and a sixteenth won't be a problem for him."

Gonzalez knows his colt, to be piloted for the first time by Jesse Campbell, has a tough test on Sunday, but he's hoping that those who back Midnight Aria at the windows will be singing his praises following the Wando.

"We're just feeling him out right now. We want to see if he belongs in that upper echelon of the young three-year-olds,” says Gonzalez. "We're hoping for another pleasant surprise when we get over there on Sunday."

FIELD FOR THE WANDO STAKES

POST / HORSE / JOCKEY / TRAINER
1 / Are You Kidding Me / Todd Kabel / Roger Attfield
2 / Uncaptured / Patrick Husbands / Mark Casse
3 / Steel Dust Dancer / Eurico Rosa Da Silva / Mark Casse
4 / Tesseron / Justin Stein / Josie Carroll
5 / Pyrite Mountain / Luis Contreras / Mark Frostad
6 / Dynamic Sky / Patrick Husbands / Mark Casse
7 / Midnight Aria / Jesse Campbell / Nick Gonzalez