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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – In the aftermath of last Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga, connections of the top three finishers – winner Max Player, runner-up Happy Saver, and beaten favorite Forza Di Oro – began plotting the next starts for their respective older dirt males.
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After garnering his first Grade 1 conquest Saturday, George E. Hall and Sport BLX Thoroughbreds’ Max Player will train up to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on November 6 at Del Mar, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen told NYRA’s media office.
The victory was a second consecutive graded stakes win at 10 furlongs for Max Player, who earned a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure for the win. He previously defeated Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Mystic Guide in the Suburban (G2) on July 3 over a sloppy and sealed track at Belmont Park. Ricardo Santana Jr. piloted the 4-year-old for both races.
Asmussen said Max Player has shown considerable physical improvement from his sophomore season, where he finished third to Tiz the Law in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and Grade 1 Runhappy Travers.
“Max Player is better than he’s ever been and physically he’s developed into this. His next race will be the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Asmussen said. “There’s more of him. He’s a horse that’s continued to grow, fill out, and mature. There’s a lot more of Max Player as a 4-year-old than there was as a 3-year-old. He’s bigger and stronger.”
The last time Del Mar hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2017, Asmussen won the Classic with subsequent Horse of the Year Gun Runner. In preparation for this year’s Breeders’ Cup, Asmussen said he plans on shipping Max Player to California early to prepare for his next engagement.
“We just want to acclimate them to West Coast time,” Asmussen said. “For previous Breeders’ Cups in California, we like to get out there and be on Pacific Coast time and I think we’ve gotten solid runs doing that, so we’re planning on doing the same this time. Last time the Breeders’ Cup was at Del Mar, we had Gun Runner. He went out and trained at Santa Anita before going to Del Mar.”
Asmussen found the winner’s circle in 4 of the last 6 editions of the Breeders’ Cup hosted in California, winning with Mitole [2019 Sprint at Santa Anita], Gun Runner [2017 Classic at Del Mar], Untapable [2014 Distaff at Santa Anita], and Tapizar [2012 Dirt Mile at Santa Anita].
Co-owner George E. Hall said he was equally delighted to see his horse secure a Grade 1 victory.
“You have to give all the credit to Steve and Ricardo,” Hall said at the Asmussen barn on Sunday morning. “I think having Ricardo on him consistently now; he knows the horse and Steve knows what instructions to give him. He just has to stay with the pace. He can’t get so far behind and have too much ground to make up.”
Hall echoed similar sentiments to Asmussen in terms of Max Player’s physical development from age 3 to 4.
“You look at his record, he didn’t have a lot of wins, but there was no shame in losing to Tiz the Law and Authentic,” Hall said. “Those were great horses. He’s still maturing as a 4-year-old and we’re pretty excited about his prospects.”
Max Player’s Stalking Trip Equals Jockey Club Gold Cup Glory
Wertheimer and Frere homebred Happy Saver, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, settled for second while trying to defend his title in Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga.
The 4-year-old Super Saver chestnut, piloted by Irad Ortiz Jr., saved ground while tracking a moderate pace from third position. Ortiz Jr. angled the colt into the four-path for the stretch run, but the more forwardly-placed Max Player was already on his way to a 4-length score when Happy Saver got clear.
“There wasn’t a lot of pace and he was sort of bottled up. He was wanting to advance but didn’t really get the opportunity until it was too late. The winner was very good and he got the jump on him,” Pletcher said. “I was happy with his performance and he closed well, which is probably a little better suited to a race where there’s more pace and everybody spreads out a little more. He got a good trip but it was behind the wrong pace scenario. He came back in good shape.”
Pletcher said Happy Saver will now train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Del Mar.
Don Alberto Stable’s Forza Di Oro, a 4-year-old Speightstown chestnut, set the pace in the 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup before fading to third.
“He ran a good race. No excuse,” his Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said.
Mott said the 9-furlong $500,000 Woodward (G1) on October 2 at Belmont Park is a possible target.
“He hasn’t had many races, so I wouldn’t be opposed to running him,” Mott said.
The lightly-raced homebred, who won the Discovery (G3) in November at Aqueduct, was making just his second start of the year out of a winning 9-furlong effort at Saratoga on July 21.
Forza Di Oro boasts a record of 7-4-1-1 with purse earnings of $309,375.
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