(Note: The Belmont Stakes on June 20 is the first leg of the Triple Crown this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the races will be run without spectators, and the order of the races has been changed. As the Belmont Stakes approaches, usracing.com/news will profile the probable starters for the race. The official field, with post positions and morning-line odds, will be announced early next week at the draw, and the profiles will be updated.)
By Ed McNamara
It’s been awhile since we last heard from Max Player.
That was way back on Feb. 1 at Aqueduct Racetrack when he dominated a weak field in the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes (G3).
After the race, trainer Linda Rice said the next step would hopefully be the Wood Memorial (G2) in April on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) in May.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, and everything was put on hold, and all bets were off – OK most bets. The Wood was canceled, the Derby was rescheduled from May 2 to Sept. 5, and now the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 20 becomes the first leg of the Triple Crown.
That seems to be fine with Rice, who is looking to saddle her second Belmont starter in a Classic that has been shortened to 1 1/8 miles from 1 ½ miles. Rice has been big time for a long time on the New York circuit, but Max Player winning the Belmont off a 4½-month layoff would be monumental.
Max Player is a work in progress and not an easy ride. Jockey Dylan Davis had to work hard on him all the way in the Withers.
“The time off wasn’t ideal but he’s certainly improved and matured in his training, and he will have to, because he’ll be running in some very tough company,’’ Rice said. “I’m glad we have a fresh horse.”
Although he’s done nothing wrong and has the potential to be a standout, the Belmont looks like too much, too soon.
Trainer: Linda Rice
Jockey: Dylan Davis
Owner: George Hall
Career record: 3-2-1-0
Career earnings: $173,500
Breeding: Honor Code-Fools in Love, by Not for Love
“Grinder makes big class jump off 4½-month layoff; too much to ask, but potential down the road.’’ – Ed McNamara
“Bypassed trip to Matt Winn to stay home and point for Belmont … unproven against this caliber of competition.” – Noel Michaels
Davis on the Withers: “He doesn’t like too much kickback, and I had to get into him early because he started getting a little green.” … Turned in a string of stamina-building works the last two months at Belmont, including a bullet 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 June 3. His final work for the race is scheduled for Saturday … He would be Rice’s second Belmont starter. In 2003, Supervisor ran fifth to Empire Maker.
|1||Tap It To Win||6-1||John R. Velazquez||Mark E. Casse|
|2||Sole Volante||9-2||Luca Panici||Patrick L. Biancone|
|3||Max Player||15-1||Joel Rosario||Linda Rice|
|4||Modernist||15-1||Junior Alvarado||William I. Mott|
|5||Farmington Road||15-1||Javier Castellano||Todd A. Pletcher|
|6||Fore Left||30-1||Jose Ortiz||Doug O’Neill|
|7||Jungle Runner||50-1||Reylu Gutierrez||Steven M. Asmussen|
|8||Tiz The Law||6-5||Manny Franco||Barclay Tagg|
|9||Dr Post||5-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Todd A. Pletcher|
|10||Pneumatic||8-1||Ricardo Santana, Jr.||Steven M. Asmussen|
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.