Max Player rolls late in Withers

Feb 01, 2020 Kellie Reilly/

George E. Hall’s homebred Max Player stepped up from a maiden score to capture Saturday’s $250,000 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct and earned 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1). Trained by Linda Rice and ridden by Dylan Davis, the 5-1 chance settled off the pace and uncorked a stretch rally – a running style similar to his sire, champion Honor Code.

Shotski, the Remsen (G2) winner and 9-5 favorite, had to endure a contested pace up front this time. After putting away early foes Prince of Pharoahs (Max Player’s stablemate), Vanzzy, and New Commission, Shotski then met a challenge from Monday Morning Qb.

Meanwhile, Max Player began to wind up on the outside. Building momentum inside the final furlong, the dark bay drove 3 1/2 lengths clear and completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:53.87.

'It was a good thing I watched his replays (of his first two races at Parx) coming into today,” Davis said. “He doesn't like too much kickback. 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 gamely persevered for the runner-up spot by a half-length, adding 4 points to raise his total to 14. Portos, outpaced early in last, finished with interest to grab third and 2 Derby points. Monday Morning Qb ran a better-than-appears fourth in his first try beyond 7 furlongs. Off to a troubled start, he recovered to work his way into contention, accosted Shotski, and just got tired late to settle for 1 point.

Max Player advanced his record to 3-2-1-0, $173,500. He was offered as a yearling at Keeneland September, but the top bid of $150,000 didn’t reach his reserve price, and his owner kept him. After a closing second in his Nov. 12 debut, he added blinkers for a Dec. 17 maiden and powered to a 4 1/4-length decision.

'He's becoming more professional all the time in his morning workouts,” Rice said. “Anyone that watched his 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. He had a bit of a wide trip, but it was a great ride by Dylan. He's shown us in the morning that he's had a lot of run at the end of his workouts.

'It's exciting. I would think the (April 4) Wood Memorial (G2) would be the right spot. I don't want to shorten him up to one turn in the Gotham (G3). We'll point towards the Wood and whether we do something in between, George (Hall) and I will figure that out.'

Max Player is related to a couple of other notables of recent years. His half-brother, Seahenge, was a Group 2 winner for Aidan O’Brien. Their dam, the stakes-winning Fools in Love, is herself a half-sister to International Star, who swept Fair Grounds’ Road to the Kentucky Derby in 2015 – the Lecomte (G3), Risen Star (G2), and Louisiana Derby (G2).

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