George E. Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbred's Max Player rallied from second-last in the 10-horse field to finish third in Saturday's Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. Trainer Linda Rice said the Honor Code colt came out of his first race in four months in good order on Sunday morning.
"He came out good and looked good this morning; no problems," Rice said.
Max Player, with Joel Rosario aboard, tracked in ninth position as Tap It to Win led the field through the opening quarter-mile in 23.11 seconds and the half in 46.16. While Tiz the Law made a strong move out of the turn that propelled him to his 3 3/4-length victory, Max Player went seven wide from the upper stretch but kicked on impressively, besting Pneumatic by 2 1/2 lengths to finish on the board.
"He was a little further back than I hoped," Rice said. "I was hoping we'd have been a little closer early in the midpack. He had a lot to do because of that. He ran a little green into the kick-back once again. Joel had to circle pretty wide, but he was running at the end of it.”
Though showing some signs of inexperience, Max Player has been consistent, with a career record of 2-1-1 in four starts. The Kentucky bred ran second in his debut in November at Parx before ending his juvenile campaign with a maiden-breaking win at second asking in December at the same track.
In his stakes debut, he topped an eight-horse field to win the Grade 3 Withers by 3 1/4 lengths on Feb. 1 at Aqueduct, registering an 86 Beyer for his victory in the Kentucky Derby prep race.
Making his first start off the layoff, Max Player earned a personal-best 92 Beyer for his effort in the one-turn, 1 1/8-mile Belmont Stakes.
"Coming off a 4 1/2-month break, I thought it was a very creditable effort," Rice said. "You can build on this going forward. Going a mile and a quarter shouldn't be a problem as well.”
Rice said she had no confirmed next steps yet for Max Player but will talk with Hall and come up with a plan. The Saratoga summer meet runs Thursday, July 16, through Monday, Sept. 7, and includes multiple options for 3-year-olds on the main track, led by the Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 8 and including the Grade 2, $150,000 Jim Dandy at 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 5.
"We'll keep all the options open for now and sort it out when we get him back to the track in a week to 10 days," Rice said.
Rice saddled her first Belmont Stakes entrant since 2003, when Supervisor finished fifth in 2003. Already only one of 10 women to train a Belmont Stakes runner, Rice had the second-best finisher from that group, with only the Dianne Carpenter-trained Kingpost coming closer when second to Risen Star in 1988.
Despite being run at a shorter distance and without spectators, Rice said earning the blacktype in a Triple Crown race for the first time in her career was special. She also said Max Player showed the potential to possibly run in the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs and the Preakness on Oct. 3 at Pimlico if things continue to go well.
"It was pretty exciting. It would have been more exciting if we had our typical crowd that could join us, but it was great and I think he ran well enough to show that he could possibly win a classic in his future," Rice said.
Paul Pompa Jr.'s Turned Aside ran second to Jack and Noah in Friday's Sir Cat at Belmont, marking his sophomore debut. Off a seven-month respite, the son of Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah stayed in second position at every point of call to the winner, finishing one length back to the gate-to-wire victor in the six-furlong turf sprint.
Rice said Turned Aside will now target the Grade 3, $100,000 Quick Call on Friday, July 24, at Saratoga. The Quick Call, for 3-year-olds, will be contested at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.
"He ran well and he was coming off a long layoff, so we were happy with it and we'll likely point him to the Quick Call next," Rice said.