May 30, 2023

Max Player upsets Mystic Guide in Suburban

Max Player wins the Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park (Photo by Joe Labozzetta/Coglianese Photos)

Taking a huge step forward over a sloppy Belmont Park track, Max Player closed determinedly to edge odds-on favorite Mystic Guide by a neck in Saturday $400,000 Suburban (G2). He stamped his ticket to the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar taking the “Win & You’re In” race.

Overlooked at 11-1, the four-year-old colt received a heady ride from Ricard Santana Jr., racing closer to the pace than in previous starts, and Max Player snapped a six-race losing streak in the 1 1/4-mile event. Steve Asmussen trains the dark bay for George E. Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds Corp.

Moretti sprung to a clear lead at the break. Max Player hustled to be a clear second, a couple of lengths better than Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Mystic Guide and unbeaten Grade 1 victor Happy Saver, who raced a close third and fourth, respectively, entering the backstretch.

After leading through opening splits in :23.7, :47.67, and 1:11.60, Moretti came under pressure rounding the far turn. Mystic Guide, who left the gate at .85-1 after back-to-back convincing wins in the Razorback (G3) and Dubai World Cup to open his four-year-old campaign, made the first move along the inside, rallying to take a short lead into the stretch.

Max Player was about a length back in third, and three wide entering the stretch, as Santana asked for more run. Moretti threw in the towel in midstretch as Max Player began to edge closer.

Mystic Guide was still clinging to a short advantage in deep stretch, but Max Player kept finding more and surged past late, stopping the teletimer in 2:01.95.

“He was training really well,” Santana Jr. said. “If you saw him in the paddock, he was looking unbelievable. He always runs well on this track. He always tries hard. Today, he broke well and put me right there. I took the spot and no one wanted to go. As soon as he felt him inside, he kept on fighting until the end.”

Mystic Guide held second by 2 1/2 lengths over 8-5 second choice and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Happy Saver, who was never a serious threat sustaining his first career defeat. Moretti wound up fourth, and was followed by Informative and Prioritize.

“Three months away and he comes back on a very difficult racetrack,” trainer Michael Stidham said about Mystic Guide. “Even though he handled the (sloppy) track (in the Razorback) at Oaklawn, this was a totally different surface. Luis (Saez) said he was tired through the lane. It’s not that surprising that a horse coming off three months might get tired off this kind of a racetrack.“

Bred in Kentucky by K & G Stables, Max Player clearly relishes wet tracks, breaking his maiden by a 4 1/4-length margin the second time out over a sloppy Parx oval. After a convincing win in the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct, he recorded a couple of respectable thirds in Belmont S. (G1) and Travers (G1).

Max Player was transferred from Linda Rice to Asmussen after the Travers, but embarked on a four-race string of unplaced finishes with a fifth in the Kentucky Derby next out. After concluding his sophomore season with a fifth in the Preakness (G1), he came back this year with an 11th in the Dubai World Cup and a well-beaten sixth most recently in the May 14 Pimlico Special (G3).

“He’s been here since Pimlico and he had been doing really well,” Asmussen assistant Toby Sheets said. “He’s kind of a funny horse. He always has more, but sometimes he doesn’t give it. He had a clear trip today and that helped so much. He finished well. He needed a little confidence builder and he got one today. He ran a nice race.”

By Honor Code, Max Player has now earned $717,500 from a 10-3-1-2 record. He is out of the stakes-winning Not for Love mare Fools in Love, and counts English Group 2 winner Seahenge as a half-brother.

His arrow is pointing up after the stellar Suburban performance, but Max Player must carry his form forward to fast tracks to be a serious player in the older male dirt division.