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ELMONT, NY – Dismissed on the tote at 11/1 odds, SportBLX Thoroughbreds Corp. and George Hall’s Max Player grinded his way past the 4/5 favorite Mystic Guide in the late stages to upset Saturday’s $400,000 Suburban Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park.
The Suburban is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Max Player receiving an automatic berth in the Classic at Del Mar this November.
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Max Player broke from post 5 under Ricardo Santana Jr. and settled into second behind the rail-breaking Moretti, who established the tempo through opening fractions of :23.72, :47.67, and 1:11.60.
Mystic Guide slid inside Max Player heading into the far turn and then took away the rail from Moretti, thereby getting the jump on Max Player at the top of the stretch.
Mystic Guide failed to switch leads until the 1/8 pole, perhaps giving Max Player the advantage he needed to overcome his wide trip.
The Steve Asmussen trainee took over with a furlong remaining and gamely held off Mystic Guide by a neck to win the 1 1/4-mile sloppy (sealed) main track route in 2:01.95.
“He was training really well,” said Santana Jr. “If you saw him in the paddock, he was looking unbelievable. He always runs well on this track. He always tries hard. Today, he broke well and put me right there. I took the spot and no one wanted to go. As soon as he felt (Mystic Guide) inside, he kept on fighting until the end.”
Trainer Mike Stidham acknowledged that the sloppy track contributed to tiring out Mystic Guide, making his first start since winning March’s Dubai World Cup (G1) and the Razorback Handicap (G3) over a sloppy Oaklawn Park main track in February
“3 months away and he comes back on a very difficult racetrack,” Stidham said. “Even though he handled the (sloppy) track at Oaklawn, this was a totally different surface. (Jockey Luis Saez) said he was tired through the lane. It’s not that surprising that a horse coming off 3 months might get tired off this kind of a racetrack. … Certainly no disgrace in defeat. He ran hard and ran well. We’re going onward and rolling toward the Breeders’ Cup. We’ll see how he comes out of it and then start talking about what’s next.”
The 8/5 second choice Happy Saver, who entered the race undefeated, failed to gain ground on the top pair and settled for third by a neck over Moretti.
Informative and Prioritize raced in place at the rear of the field from the start until completing the order of finish.
Max Player’s win was his first in his past 7 starts, dating back to the February 2020 Withers Stakes (G3), and improved his overall record to 10-3-1-2. The 4-year-old Honor Code colt’s earnings increased to $717,500 in his first start since finishing sixth in the Pimlico Special (G3).
“He’s been here since Pimlico and he had been doing really well,” said Asmussen assistant Toby Sheets. “He’s kind of a funny horse. He always has more, but sometimes he doesn’t give it. He had a clear trip today and that helped so much. He finished well. He needed a little confidence builder and he got one today. He ran a nice race.”
Max Player returned $25.60 to win, $6.80 to place, and $3 to show. Mystic Guide brought back $2.90 to place and $2.10 to show. Happy Saver paid $2.30 to show.
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