George E. Hall's Max Player will race out of his own barn as one of the local hopes in the 152nd renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, to be contested at nine furlongs on June 20 as the opening leg of the Triple Crown for the first time in history of the series.
“He had a nice workout today. He went six furlongs in 1:13.4 on the training track and did it easily,” said trainer Linda Rice. “We were happy with it. We'll give him two more workouts before the Belmont.”
Rice said she had considered sending the Kentucky-bred Honor Code colt, a last-out winner of the Grade 3 Withers at the Big A, to Saturday's Matt Winn at Churchill Downs but changed course with the news of live racing returning in New York.
“Mr. Hall and I discussed it and decided that we didn't think we should travel our 3-year-old once we had a schedule here and things were starting back up at home,” said Rice.
Max Player closed to finish second on debut in November at Parx in a one-mile maiden and graduated at second asking on December 17 over a sloppy Parx surface at the same distance. With Dylan Davis up for the first time in the nine-furlong Withers, a two-turn test, Max Player overtook Grade 2 Remsen-winner Shotski and powered home a 3 ¼-length winner.
Rice said the one-turn mile and an eighth should suit Max Player, who will again be piloted by Davis in the Belmont Stakes.
“Frankly, he's been a little green and inexperienced. Maybe the one turn will actually be good for him with less negotiating of two turns. Obviously, he's won at two turns but I think it will be helpful for him,” said Rice. “It's going to be a strong race and all the best 3-year-olds in the country will be there, but it's in our backyard and we're going to give it a go. He's already won at a mile and an eighth, so we're not concerned about the distance.”
An early list of possible contenders for the Belmont Stakes includes Basin, Charlatan, Farmington Road, Gouverneur Morris, Modernist, Nadal, Sole Volante, Shivaree and Tiz the Law.
Montauk Traffic, who captured the Jimmy Winkfield in February at the Big A for owner Chris Fountoukis, is currently taking some time off.
“He had a little inflammation in an ankle so we decided to stop on him and give him a break,” said Rice.
Everything's Cricket Racing and Lawrence Goichman's Nicodemus breezed five-eighths in 1:02.58 Thursday on the dirt training track. The 5-year-old Candy Ride horse, bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, was second last out in the Grade 3 Toboggan at the Big A.
He won the 2019 renewal of the Grade 3 Westchester at one mile at Belmont, but Rice said she is considering both the Grade 1, $250,000 Runhappy Carter at seven furlongs on June 6 and the $80,000 First Defence at seven furlongs on the turf as alternatives to this year's renewal of the Westchester at 1 1/16-miles.
“He's doing very well. The Westchester was a flat mile last year – in the mud – and that worked out well for us,” said Rice. “We'll nominate to the Carter, Westchester and First Defence and figure out what looks like the best opportunity. The best distance for him is probably the Carter, but it's going to be a very strong race.”
Wicked Trick, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Hat Trick owned by Rice with Stephen G. Cooper, enjoyed a strong 2019 campaign winning five-of-nine starts. Rice said the gelding is under consideration for both the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter and Grade 2, $150,000 True North, a 6 1/2-furlong test slated for June 27.
“He's doing well. We've nominated him to the Carter and True North and we'll give both of those some consideration,” said Rice.
Darlene Bilinski and Harry Patten's New York-bred Prince of Pharoahs showed early promise with a five-length win at second asking in a one-turn mile in October at Belmont. The dark bay American Pharoah colt finished second in the one-mile Jerome on New Year's Day at the Big A, but landed sixth when stretched out to nine furlongs in the Withers in search of graded black type.
Rice said Prince of Pharoahs will target the $100,000 Mike Lee at seven furlongs for Empire State-bred sophomores on June 14.
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