George E. Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds' Max Player, who ran third in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 20, is being pointed towards the Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers, trainer Linda Rice said.
Max Player, who finished only behind Dr Post and winner Tiz the Law in last month's first leg of the Triple Crown, registered his first breeze since the Belmont Stakes, going four furlongs in 49 seconds on Sunday over Belmont Park's dirt training track.
“He's doing very well. That was his first breeze since the Belmont and it was just a nice, comfortable breeze, and he's in good order,” Rice said.
Never off the board in four career starts, Max Player could next make his Saratoga debut by running in the “Mid-Summer Derby.” He made his first two starts at Parx, running second in his debut at one mile on November 12 before winning at the same distance at second asking on December 17.
In his sophomore debut, he bested an eight-horse field by 3 ¼ lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 Withers on February 1 at Aqueduct Racetrack. That was his previous start since the Belmont Stakes, which was shortened from its famed 1 ½-mile distance to a one-turn 1 1/8 miles to accommodate the revised schedule for 3-year-olds in training.
With the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby set for September 5 and serving as the middle jewel of the Triple Crown this year, Max Player can accumulate even more qualifying points, with the Travers offering a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top-four finishers.
Max Player has accumulated 40 qualifying points for the “Run for the Roses” and is 12th on the current leaderboard for a race that has traditionally taken as many as 20 entries.
Contested at 1 1/4 miles, the Travers would be the longest race Max Player has run, but Rice said she is optimistic the Honor Code colt could handle it.
“We're leaning towards running in the Travers,” Rice said. “We looked at some other options with the [Grade 1] Haskell [at Monmouth] or the [Grade 3] Peter Pan [July 16 at Saratoga], but we are going to point right to the Travers.”
Wicked Trick, who finished fourth in the Grade 2 True North on June 27 at Belmont, will be getting a freshening after three races to start his 5-year-old campaign. The Hat Trick gelding won his seasonal bow against allowance company on January 20 at Aqueduct before running fifth in the Stymie on March 7.
After stepping up to graded stakes company for the first time in 23 career starts in the True North, Rice said she decided to give the Kentucky bred who she co-owns with Stephen Cooper a respite.
“He's just been a little dull lately, so I just sent him to the farm to give him some time off,” Rice said.
Rice has saddled four winners during the Belmont spring/summer meet, which started June 3 and will conclude on Sunday, July 12. She will gear up for the Saratoga meet that runs from July 16 through September 7. Rice has enjoyed success at the Spa, highlighted by the 2009 meet in which she captured the training title.
“I think we were all very happy to just get back to racing in these unusual times,” Rice said. “It's given a lot of relief to the horsemen and the owners so that we can maintain these horses in our stables. Saratoga will be unusual this year as well for sure, but we're just all happy to be back to racing.”
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