Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is eager to see what Max Player can do in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby despite admitting that taking the scalp of Tiz The Law is a ‘tall task’.
Max Player has twice finished third to Tiz The Law in recent starts, including the Grade 1 Travers Stakes early last month.
After that run, he left the care of Linda Rice to be prepared by Asmussen for the Kentucky Derby. Asmussen knows the scale of task ahead but he feels Max Player has been given a small advantage in arriving early.
“The reason he is here is to give him time to acclimate to the track and the surroundings to hopefully make up the difference,” he said of the decision to relocate from Rice’s yard.
“He’s been third to Tiz The Law in his last two races. That horse is the deserving favourite and a tall task. You only have one chance to run in the Derby, and we just wanted to do everything we could to give him his best chance.”
With regular exercise rider Juan Vargas aboard, Max Player completed his prep-work on Monday when breezing an easy half-mile in 49.80 seconds.
Winner of the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in February, Max Player has since finished behind Tiz The Law in both the Belmont Stakes (1m1f) and the Travers (1m2f).
On the evidence of that Saratoga run, closing down the gap appears a thankless task. The Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz The Law cantered home, with rider Manny Franco looking around for non-existent dangers from early in the home straight.
Asmussen says Max Player has been in great heart since he made the move to his yard and feels a big performance in the ‘Run for the Roses’ is looming.
“He’s continuing to do well,” Steve Asmussen said. “I’m extremely excited about how he’s going to run in the Kentucky Derby. I love how he looks going over the racetrack. His attitude is really good. He came in with a really good attitude and was moving really well. That has stayed the same.”
Tiz The Law is scheduled to depart New York on a flight for Kentucky on Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Mark Casse-trained Enforceable is one contender thankful for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby date. He was fifth in the Louisiana Derby in late March and his connections would have skipped the Derby had it been run in the usual early-May slot.
As it was, he had a break before finishing fifth in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes in early July and now comes to Churchill Downs in good shape.
“Oh, if it (the Kentucky Derby) had been in May, he wouldn’t have ran,” trainer Casse said of Enforceable. “He came out of the Louisiana Derby tired and beat up, and there is no way that I would have ran him in the Derby.
“It took him a long time. We brought him home (to Ocala, Florida) and it took us about two months to get back to where I was happy training him.”