Allaire Ryan of Lane's End freely admitted that Max Player had a hard time standing out from the crowd at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
The colt from the debut crop of sire Honor Code was part of a four-day, 989-member arrangement of horses that comprised Book 1 of the Keeneland September sale, and when a young horse with some growing to do is placed next to a row of future seven-figure stars, turning heads can be a challenge.
A couple years later, Max Player had all eyes on him in the Aqueduct stretch when he won the Grade 3 Withers Stakes on Feb. 1 and established himself as a contender on the Kentucky Derby trail. The showcase win rewarded the confidence owner/breeder George Hall had in the colt to buy him back as a yearling.
Back when he was known simply as Hip 929 at the Keeneland September sale, Max Player was a late April foal with some growing up to do. The mentality in Book 1 is about as “win now” as a yearling sale can get, given the dizzying amount of money changing hands, so it's a tough market in which to preach patience to buyers.
“You had to have a little bit of imagination when you saw him,” Ryan said. “He had a really attractive profile, and had that Honor Code flashiness about him, but he was narrow-bodied and narrow-framed and not a finished product by any means.
“For sure, you feel the pressures of Book 1, and he just didn't make the cut for some people, but he was always a yearling that had the movement,” she continued. “He was light on his feet, he had such great action, no wasted movement. We always knew he was an athlete, he just wasn't in the right spot of the sale to get that kind of recognition. The quality was there, the pieces were there, he just needed the time.”
Max Player races as a homebred for the Hall family, owned by father George Hall and bred by his children George and Katherine, who hung on to their colt after he finished under his reserve at the Keeneland September sale with a final bid of $150,000.
The family had purchased Max Player's dam, the eventual stakes-winning Not For Love mare Fools In Love, for $80,000 at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Fall Yearlings Sale. She'd go on to make $240,746 on the racetrack, but her biggest value to the Halls' operation was as a broodmare. The half-sister to Grade 2 winner International Star went on to herself become the dam of English Group 2 winner Seahenge, Grade 3-placed Urban Bourbon, and stakes-placed Frank's Folly.
The Halls then sold Fools In Love through the Lane's End consignment for $1 million at the 2017 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. Max Player was the last foal they had out of the mare, so the decision to hang on to him when the money didn't show up at auction was a little easier.
“They know a good horse and they believed in what they had,” Ryan said. “You can't be disappointed when you RNA a horse like that at a sale, as long as the owner you're representing is happy, you have to be happy.”
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