September 26, 2023

Max Player dominant in Jockey Club Gold Cup

Max Player wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga (Photo by Chelsea Durand/Coglianese Photos)

After upsetting the Suburban S. (G2) over a sloppy track, Max Player confirmed himself as a major player for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) when rolling to an authoritative victory in Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) on Saratoga’s fast oval.

The Gold Cup was held at Saratoga for the first time in the race’s 103-year history.

Off as the 38-10 third choice with Ricardo Santana Jr., Max Player tracked 11-10 favorite Forza Di Oro in second before powering his way to the lead in upper stretch. He drew off to a comfortable four-length decision, completing the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:02.49.

“I was happy with him,” said Santana, who notched his third Grade 1 win of the meet. “Today, he broke good, so I was really happy with it. The trainer is doing all the work.”

Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trains the Kentucky-bred son of Honor Code for George E. Hall and Sportbiz Thoroughbreds, and Max Player has now earned $1,252,500 from an 11-4-1-2 record.

“It was beautiful,” Asmussen said. “Max, in the Suburban, ran that race under different circumstances on an off track. For him to do this on a fast track in the Jockey Club Gold Cup here at Saratoga, it is very satisfying. This is who he is, and I thought it was a dominating win.”

Max Player, who had already stamped his ticket to the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar in the July 3 Suburban at Belmont Park, won his second consecutive “Win & You’re In” race.

Winner of the Withers (G3) in February 2020, Max Player posted non-threatening thirds in the Belmont S. (G1) and Travers (G1) prior to a belated fifth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) last fall. He dropped six straight before turning things around in the Suburban.

Improved tactical speed has been pivotal to his form reversal. After chasing the pace in the Suburban, Max Player was only a length back through opening splits in :48.70 and 1:13.14 in the Gold Cup.

Happy Saver, last year’s Gold Cup winner and the 2-1 second choice, got up late for second while never a threat to the winner. He wound up a half-length better than Forza Di Oro, who was another half-length better than 6-1 Night Ops in fourth. Chess Chief and Forewarned completed the order.

Bred by K & G Stables, Max Player is out of the restricted stakes winner Fools in Love. The Not for Love mare is also the dam of English Group 2 winner Sea Henge, and she counts multiple Grade 2 victor International Star as a half-brother.

Asmussen said he would like to send Max Player to Del Mar early to acclimate.

“I will speak with Mr. Hall, but I think the right thing to do is to go out there early and wait for the Classic,” Asmussen said of future plans.