Inside Straight pushes past Midnight Storm in Oaklawn

The owner Randy Howg bought the horse Inside Straight in late spring 2016 to try and win the Manitoba Derby. He succeeded, too, but there was more to come -- much more.

Hot on the heels of heavily favored Midnight Storm for much of Saturday's Grade 2, $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap, Inside Straight came off the fence at the top of the stretch, came abreast Midnight Storm at the furlong grounds, and pushed past to win by two lengths.

Howg drove himself in his semi-trailer last summer to see Inside Straight earn the $46,000 winner's share of the Manitoba Derby purse. Winner's share of the Oaklawn Handicap was a cool $450,000.

Robertino Diodoro trains the winner, and Geovanni Franco's flawless ride gave him his first graded-stakes win. Inside Straight, off Midnight Storm's quick splits of 22.96, 46.99, and 1:10.60, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.40. The 9-year-old warrior Domain's Rap untangled himself from a spot of traffic at the top of the homestretch and was up by a neck over Midnight Storm to get second.

Then came Madefromlucky, Goats Town, Texas Chrome, and Cutacorner. The winner, who got an eight-pound break in the handicap weights (122-114) from Midnight Storm, paid $41.40.

Inside Straight, a New York-bred 4-year-old gelding by Super Saver and out of the Southern Halo mare Dance Alexa, won two of his first nine starts before romping in a $40,000 claimer last May at Belmont Park for trainer Todd Pletcher and WinStar Farm. It was after that race that Howg, who had been partners on a previous Manitoba Derby winner, purchased Inside Straight, who surely earned back his owner's investment several times over Saturday.

Midnight Storm, racing outside California for the first time since he finished seventh last May in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, made the lead under Mike Smith from post 3, but was pushed into a quick first quarter-mile by Cutacorner. The pace moderated somewhat down the backstretch, but Goats Town made a wide middle move to contend that forced Midnight Storm to keep working around the far turn. Having shrugged off that challenge, Midnight Storm quickly faced a fresh one from Inside Storm, who always seemed to be going the better of the pair once he tipped two wide to challenge.

"My horse broke very sharp. He was alert, feeling good, nice and relaxed," Franco said. "I just tried to follow [Midnight Storm]. My horse was just full of run and full of strength today."

After his Manitoba Derby win, Inside Straight went into a slight form trough, but he ended his wide-ranging 2016 campaign with a good closing third in the $200,000 Zia Park Derby. He ran three solid races this winter and spring at Oaklawn -- and picked a perfect time to deliver the performance of his life.