Trainer Linda Rice is optimistic that Max Player goes into the Grade 1 Travers on Saturday with a clear shot at success.
She watched him complete his prep work with a five-furlong spin on the Belmont dirt training track on Monday and he’s set to head out to Saratoga on Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s $1m Travers Stakes.
After breaking his maiden at Parx in December, Max Player decisively won the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in February.
His most recent run yielded a third-place finish in the nine-furlong Belmont Stakes in June, off the back of a layoff. He chased home Tiz The Law and Dr Post in that contest and has pleased his trainer since.
“He trained very well into the Belmont and had improved dramatically up to June when the Belmont ran,” said Rice. “Since then, we’ve been holding steady. I haven’t trained him quite as aggressively because he’s not coming off of a five-month layoff this time.”
He won’t have a chance to get a run-out on the main track at Saratoga before Saturday but Rice isn’t viewing that as a problem given his past endeavours.
“He shipped to Parx and ran well. He shipped to Aqueduct and won the Withers and had never trained at Aqueduct, he just shipped over from Belmont,” said Rice. “I’m not concerned. He’s a pretty level-headed horse, and he’s easy to train in that respect.”
Joel Rosario is set to partner Max Player in the Travers, where they are facing Tiz The Law once more alongside the likes of Los Alamitos Derby winner Uncle Chuck, Peter Pan winner Country Grammer and recent maiden winner First Line.
Trainer Orlando Noda has confirmed that jockey David Cohen would pick up the mount on First Line in the Travers and he’ll get a chance to sit on the First Samurai chestnut this week.
Cohen guided 33-1 shot Golden Ticket to a dramatic dead-heat win with Alpha in the 2012 Travers and Noda predicts that First Line is going to be capable of outrunning a big price as he steps up in class.
“I think he’ll give us a good, honest ride,” said Noda. “He’ll get on him tomorrow and gallop on the main track and get a feel for the horse.
“It doesn’t happen very often to have a horse peak at the right time,” added Noda. “But everything happens for a reason, and I think he’ll outrun his odds.”
The “Mid-Summer Derby” has a field of eight declared and is one of a trio of Grade 1 contests on Saturday’s Saratoga card; joining the $300,000 Ballerina for fillies and mares three-years-old and up over seven-furlongs in a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, and the prestigious $300,000 Longines Test.