Don Benge’s Maximus Ruler, the
3-year-old Roman Ruler colt that broke his maiden in a two-turn allowance race
at Churchill Downs Nov. 28, is probable for the upcoming Grade III Lecomte
Stakes Jan. 23, trainer Clark Hanna confirmed Saturday.
The Lecomte, which carries a $100,000
purse, is the first leg of Fair Grounds’ sophomore series that concludes with
the 97th running of the Grade II Louisiana Derby March 27, and this
spring’s Louisiana Derby will become the richest race ever run in Louisiana
with its increased purse of $750,000.
“He’ll be in (the Lecomte) and if all
goes well we plan on running in all three,” Hanna said, referring to Fair
Grounds’ Road to the Derby series encompassing the Lecomte, the Grade II
$300,000 Risen Star Stakes Feb. 20 and the Grade II $750,000 Louisiana
Derby on the last Saturday in March.
Maximus Ruler debuted at Churchill Downs
in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Nov. 14, finishing third by a head
despite a dreadful trip at 52-1. “I would have been a rich man if he had won,”
Two weeks later Maximus Ruler came back
in the only spot he could get in before the end of the Churchill meeting, a
first-level allowance at one mile.
“He was ready to run back when I wanted
him to run back,” Hanna explained. “I knew I wasn’t going to get in the maiden
race because of the way the date system worked there. It was the only spot I
could go in other than the stake.”
Maximus Ruler, with Francisco Torres up,
split horses en route to a surprisingly easy one-length win. “Cisco said the
last part of it he was just kind of sitting on him, not using him, and that was
coming back on a two-week turnaround,” Hanna said.
Owner Don Benge has reportedly
turned down several significant offers for Maximus Ruler in favor of chasing
the Kentucky Derby dream. It is a dream that Hanna, for one, seems to
think is worth pursuing. The trainer is confident that added distance will not
be an issue for his prize colt, and he believes there is more improvement to
“If you watch his replays he’s still
learning how to run,” Hanna said. “Over the past 30 days he’s starting to drop
his head. We changed equipment on him just to train with and I think that
helped, and then for the breeze I switched back to what he raced in and he
seemed to drop his head.”
Maximus Ruler has worked twice since
arriving at Fair Grounds, including the most recent breeze Jan. 2, which Hanna
stated was a five-furlong move in 59.40 although a stout gallop-out compelled
clockers to officially list it as six furlongs in 1:13.60. Hanna described the
effort as a “walk in the park.”
Hanna was impressed by Maximus Ruler
when he first came up for bids at the 2008 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
The colt failed to meet his $20,000 reserve for breeders Hargus and Sandra
Sexton, who have horses with Hanna. “He came right after a sale-topper and he
didn’t bring very much money,” Hanna remembered. “Mr. Sexton didn’t want to let
him go for that cheap so I asked him what he wanted for him. He told me and I
said, ‘Sold.’ You could tell he was a big, bulky colt and you could see he had
a lot of filling out to do.”
Maximus Ruler is scheduled to breeze
Monday after the 8-8:30 a.m. renovation break, weather permitting. If Monday’s
work is postponed, he’ll go Wednesday and then again the following Tuesday
(Jan. 18). Most days, Maximus Ruler can be seen on the track late in the
morning, shortly before training hours end at 10 a.m.
As good as he’s been doing lately, Hanna
was tempted to try Maximus Ruler in last Sunday’s first-level allowance race,
which he would have been eligible for despite having won an allowance, being a
non-winner of two races lifetime.
“I thought it was too much to ask coming
back in three weeks for the stake (the Lecomte),” Hanna said. “I didn’t want to
do that to him because it’s a long run home for what I’m trying to accomplish.”