Kentucky Derby contender profile: Max Player
He might not be the flashiest colt on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but Max Player gave notice he’s a force to be reckoned with when he rolled to a decisive 3 1/4-length victory in the Withers (G3) on Feb. 1 at Aqueduct.
Max Player will never blow you away with blinding early speed or effortless victories, but ignore this improving colt at your own risk. One moment he’ll be racing at the back of the pack, seemingly out of contention, and the next moment he’ll be grinding his way to the lead with a relentless rally.
Bred by K & G Stables and owned by George Hall, Max Player debuted Nov. 12 in a 1-mile maiden special weight at Parx Racing. Over a slow and tiring track, Max Player trailed by nearly a dozen lengths at the halfway point, but gradually lengthened his stride and gobbled up ground late to fall half a length short of victory.
There was no doubting Max Player’s superiority when he contested an identical race Dec. 17. This time the Linda Rice-trained colt stayed within three lengths of the lead, raced to the front at the quarter pole, and pulled away to prevail by 4 1/4 lengths.
Not every deep closer thrives when stretched out in distance, but Max Player relished the opportunity to tackle 1 1/8 miles in the Withers. A son of champion Honor Code, out of a mare by Not For Love (the broodmare sire of 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome), Max Player is bred for stamina and put his endurance to good use at Aqueduct.
During the early stages of the Withers, Max Player responded negatively to kickback, carried his head high, and backed out of a pocket as dirt flew back in his face. But after he was guided to the outside, where he could race in the clear and out of traffic, Max Player gradually settled down and steadily advanced to win going away in 1:53.87.
From a mental perspective, Max Player is still a work in progress. His reluctance to face kickback could be problematic in the Kentucky Derby (G1), a race where most deep closers wind up in traffic. Max Player can also be a challenging horse to ride, requiring continuous urging to stay focused and on the move. The chaos of facing 19 rivals at Churchill Downs could prove difficult to overcome.
On the bright side, Max Player possesses seemingly inexhaustible stamina. He’s a classic grinder. Once he gets his engine revved up, he keeps coming at a steady pace. Should his Kentucky Derby aspirations fall short, the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (G1) could be a match made in heaven for Max Player.