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SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY – George Hall’s Max Player took over command from the favored Shotski in deep stretch before pulling away late to spring the upset in Saturday’s $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct.
Breaking from post 3 under Dylan Davis as the 5/1 fourth shot on the board, Max Player settled into stride under his own terms and allowed a four-wide wall of foes to duel for the lead heading into the clubhouse turn. Prince of Pharoahs initially tried to secure command over New Commission to his inside and Shotski and Vanzzy to his outside, but before the corner was complete, Shotski had taken it away.
With Vanzzy draped over his right hip, Shotski posted opening fractions of :23.96, :49.16, and 1:13.99. Approaching the far turn, Max Player went three-wide in the second flight and began advancing toward the front alongside Monday Morning Qb.
The two were forced to go even wider when New Commission rejoined the fight for first, and by the top of the stretch, they presented Shotski with a new challenge. Monday Morning Qb took first run at the lead, but Shotski fought back along the inside to repel his bid.
Max Player, however, used his three-wide positioning to avoid Shotski’s eye and took over in deep stretch. Driving away in the shadow of the wire, the Linda Rice trainee crossed 3 1/4 lengths ahead in a final time of 1:53.87 for the 1 1/8-mile event over the fast main track.
“It was a good thing I watched his replays coming into today,” Davis said. “He doesn’t like too much kickback. He broke well for me today, and right when the first kickback came to him into the first turn, he immediately got distracted. I got him back outside and he got on pace and started running well. Going into the second turn, he was traveling well and I had to get into him early because he started getting a little green. Once he got to the stretch, he was all business.”
Sent postward as the 9/5 favorite thanks to his Remsen Stakes (G2) victory over the same course and distance, Shotski was unable to fend off the final challenger but continued on for second. Portos rallied from last to get up for third in the final stages, with a 1/2-length separating him from both Shotski and Monday Morning Qb in fourth.
New Commission was 2 lengths behind in fifth, while a tired Prince of Pharoahs finished 10 lengths back in sixth. Neither Mr. Shortandsimple nor Vanzzy completed the race, though each walked off the track under his own power.
The Withers is part of the Road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby prep race season. Max Player earned 10 points for the win, with Shotski receiving 4 for second, Portos 2 for third, and Monday Morning Qb 1 for fourth.
Max Player’s win was his second straight following a maiden-breaking effort while going a mile in the slop at Parx on December 17. The 3-year-old son of Honor Code, an RNA for $150,000 as a yearling, has now earned $173,500 to go with a record of 3-2-1-0.
“He’s becoming more professional all the time in his morning workouts,” Rice said. “Anyone that watched his two races at Parx could see he ran pretty green. He got pinched out a little bit into the first turn and Dylan did a nice job of getting him back into the race and into the clear. He had a bit of a wide trip, but it was a great ride by Dylan. He’s shown us in the morning that he’s had a lot of run at the end of his workouts.”
Max Player returned $12.80 to win, $5.30 to place, and $3.60 to show. Shotski brought back $3.50 to place and $2.60 to show, while Portos paid $2.60 to show.
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