OZONE PARK, N.Y. – George Hall’s Max Player lived up to his name and went all in during the final furlong, overtaking Monday Morning Qb and 9-5 favorite Shotski with a strong run from the outside to capture the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers for sophomores on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
In his stakes debut – and just his third career start overall – the Honor Code colt earned 10 qualifying points to the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby with his 3 1/4-length score in the 1 1/8-mile route. The 140th edition of the Withers awarded 10-4-2-1 points to the top-four finishers towards qualifying for the “Run for the Roses” on May 2 at Churchill Downs.
The Linda Rice trainee stayed in sixth position under jockey Dylan Davis, as Grade 2 Remsen-winner Shotski led the eight-horse field through the opening quarter-mile in 23.96 seconds and the half in 49.16 on the main track labeled fast.
Urged up near the final turn, Max Player had plenty in reserve for the final push, making a strong bid under Davis’ left-handed encouragement in the five-path, passing Monday Morning Qb to his inside before gaining the edge on Shotski and finishing strong, hitting the wire in 1:53.87.
Max Player ran second in his debut at one mile on November 12 at Parx and broke his maiden at the same distance over a sloppy and sealed Parx main track on December 17. In his 3-year-old bow, Max Player handled the stretch out in distance, earning Rice her 200th career stakes victory and first in the Withers.
“He’s becoming more professional all the time in his morning workouts. Anyone that watched his two races at Parx could see he ran pretty green,” Rice said. “He got pinched out a little bit into the first turn and Dylan did a nice job of getting him back into the race and into the clear. He had a bit of a wide trip, but it was a great ride by Dylan. He’s shown us in the morning that he’s had a lot of run at the end of his workouts.”
Rice said she will likely target the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 4 at Aqueduct, where 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby points will be on the line for the 1 1/8-mile race.
“It’s exciting. I would think the Wood Memorial would be the right spot,” Rice said. “I don’t want to shorten him up to one-turn in the Gotham [March 7 at Aqueduct]. We’ll point towards the Wood and whether we do something in between, George and I will figure that out.”
Off at 5-1, Max Player returned $12.80 on a $2 win wager. Bred in Kentucky by K & G Stables, he improved his career bankroll to $173,500.
“It was a good thing I watched his replays coming into today. He doesn’t like too much kickback,” said Davis, who won three races on the card and tallied his third stakes of the winter meet. “He broke well for me today and right when the first kickback came to him into the first turn, he immediately got distracted. I got him back outside and he got on pace and started running well. Going into the second turn, he was traveling well and I had to get into him early because he started getting a little green. Once he got to the stretch, he was all business.”
Shotski, the field’s lone previous graded stakes-winner, edged a late-charging Protos by a half-length for second. Trained by Jeremiah O’Dwyer, the son of Blame entered the day 10th on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard and increased his total to 14, building on his Remsen victory that netted 10 points.
“He’s a fighter for sure,” O’Dwyer said. “Monday Morning Qb came to him but he fought back and wasn’t going to let him go by. Linda’s horse is obviously a nice horse and was a good bit away from him and didn’t get a chance to see him coming to him. He doesn’t know when to quit or lie down. I’m very proud of him.”
Portos, stepping up to stakes company for the first time in his fifth start, rallied from last to garner two points, earning blacktype for trainer Todd Pletcher.”My horse was coming late but it was hard to make up ground today,” said Portos jockey Jose Lezcano.
Completing the order of finish was Monday Morning Qb, who earned one point, New Commission and Prince of Pharoahs. Mr. Shortandsimple and Vanzzy were eased at the finish.
Live racing resumes Sunday with an eight-race card, featuring the $100,000 Busanda for 3-year-old fillies in Race 7. The 1 1/8-mile route will offer 10-4-2-1 qualifying points to the Kentucky Oaks. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.
Via NYRA Press Release