February 24, 2024

Max Player surges late to win Withers

Max Player rallied to win going away in the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct (c) NYRA/Joe Labozzetta/Coglianese Photography

Max Player rallied to win going away by 3 3/4 lengths in Saturday’s $250,000 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct, picking up 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth in his stakes debut. The Linda Rice-trained colt was making the third career start, breaking his maiden by open lengths at Parx in the previous outing, and Dylan Davis was up on the son of Honor Code.

Campaigned by George E. Hall, Max Player completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:53.87. He was the 5-1 fourth choice among eight 3-year-olds.

Remsen (G2) winner Shotski advanced to the front on the first turn, and the 9-5 favorite established splits in :23.96, :49.16 and 1:13.99 on a short lead. Max Player settled a few lengths back in sixth, and the dark bay began edging closer nearing the completion of the far turn.

“He’s becoming more professional all the time in his morning workouts,” Rice said. “Anyone that watched his (first) two races at Parx could see he ran pretty green. 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.”

Monday Morning Qb was the first to offer a serious challenge to the pacesetter, accelerating into contention on the far turn after missing the break, but his bid stalled in midstretch after nearly drawing to even terms. Max Player swung wide into the straightaway and grinded his way toward the front, overhauling Shotski inside the sixteenth pole and drawing clear late.

“He had a bit of a wide trip, but it was a great ride by Dylan,” Rice said. “He’s shown us in the morning that he’s had a lot of run at the end of his workouts.”

“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 Saturday. “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 held second in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier, adding two points to the 10 he received upsetting the Remsen. Portos, the 5-2 second choice, closed from last to be another half-length back in third, a half-length better than 4-1 Monday Morning Qb. New Commission and Prince of Pharoahs came next under the wire. Mr. Shortandsimple and Vanzzy were eased, and both walked off the track.

Bred in Kentucky by K & G Stables, Max Player RNA’ed for $150,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale. He is out of the stakes-winning Not for Love mare Fools in Love, and counts as half-siblings English Group 2 winner and Group 1 runner-up winner Seahenge; Grade 3-placed Urban Bourbon; and stakes-placed Frank’s Folly. Fools in Love is a half-sister to multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire International Star.

Rice said the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) on April 4 at Aqueduct, a final major Kentucky Derby prep race offering 170 points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10), will be the likely target for Max Player.

“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 (G3) (on March 7). We’ll point towards the Wood and whether we do something in between, George and I will figure that out.”