Maximus Mischief winning the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct - Photo by NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography/Chelsea Durand

Maximus Mischief winning the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct – Photo by NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography/Chelsea Durand

Big steps up in both class and distance can be problematic for some horses, but they were certainly no obstacle for Maximus Mischief in Saturday’s $250,000 Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct, as the speedy colt kept his unbeaten record intact with another eye-catching victory.

With qualifications points for the 2019 Kentucky Derby on the line, the 1 1/8-mile Remsen marked a stiff test the son of Into Mischief, who had opened his career with two authoritative victories sprinting against easier competition at Parx Racing. But with regular rider Frankie Pennington in the saddle, Maximus Mischief left no doubt about his superiority in the Remsen while running more professionally than in the past.

Following an alert start, Maximus Mischief settled nicely into a steady rhythm, exchanging the lead with longshot Gladiator King through slow fractions of :25.12 and :50.67. It was a pleasing departure from the antics Maximus Mischief displayed in his second start, when he fought his rider’s restraint during the opening stages, and the relaxed early tempo in the Remsen allowed Maximus Mischief to turn up the heat in the second half-mile, where he essentially sprinted his pursuers out of their comfort zone with increasingly testing quarter-mile fractions of :23.93 and :23.88.

Those fast fractions, coming so late in the race, gave Maximus Mischief a 2 ½-length lead passing the eighth pole, and while he did slow down in the final furlong—understandable for a two-year-old running 1 1/8 miles—he still managed to negotiate the distance in a solid :12.86 seconds, which carried him to a 2 ¼-length triumph over the late-running favorite Network Effect, who lost ground during the second half-mile before re-rallying to edge the pace-tracking Tax for second place. The final time was 1:51.34 seconds

Trained by Robert “Butch” Reid, Jr. and owned by Cash is King LLC and LC Racing, the victory earned Maximus Mischief $137,500 and 10 Kentucky Derby qualification points, but seeing him run such a professional race while stretching out in distance was arguably just as significant.

“Running short he was always so sharp and keen, but Butch Reid did an awesome job getting him ready for this race,” Pennington told the New York Racing Association following the race. “He broke well. Going into the first turn he relaxed right back to me and put his ears up and I knew he was going to be good today.

“He’s the kind of horse that will do it easy by himself, but as soon as he feels the pressure, he becomes an even better horse. When he feels that fight coming, that’s what he likes.”

Reid reiterated Pennington’s observations while praising the unbeaten colt. “He runs the turns really well and he swaps leads really good so that’s generally where he gets the drop on them. The first thing Frank said when he came off the horse was that when he went into the first turn, [Maximus Mischief] pricked his ears and settled down—and he hadn’t had too many horses around him early in his career—that he wasn’t worried about the horses inside or outside of him, so that’s a really good sign.”

Javier Castellano, rider of Network Effect, noted that the slow pace may have compromised their chances, but overall he was pleased with the race. “I’m not disappointed with my horse,” he told the New York Racing Association. “I’m really satisfied with the way he did it, and I think he’s a horse that has so much talent. He’s getting confident with himself and that’s the third time he’s run, and I like the way he finished today. I think he’s looking for a little more distance.”

Next-race plans are still to be determined for the top two finishers, although it seems safe to assume that both will be continuing down the 2018-19 Road to the Kentucky Derby.