Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown trail. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Maximus Mischief made his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes and handled the step up in class to maintain his unbeaten record. The bay Into Mischief colt has flashed elite talent in three starts, so let’s take a look at his chances to make some noise on the road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
Ability: Purchased for $340,000 by co-owner Chuck Zacney at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale, Maximus Mischief debuted on Sept. 29 at Parx Racing and won a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight race by 8 ¾ lengths. He followed with another dominant victory, scoring by six lengths in a seven-furlong allowance race at Parx.
Maximus Mischief earned a 102 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and a 99 for his second start, indicating significant potential for trainer Robert E. “Butch” Reid Jr.
The Remsen served as a significant measuring stick for Maximus Mischief. Not only was he making his initial foray into stakes competition – a significant hurdle – but Maximus Mischief also was stretching out an extra quarter-mile in distance from seven-eighths of a mile to 1 1/8 miles.
After leading from start to finish in his first two starts, Maximus Mischief pressed the pace in the Remsen from second through an easy opening quarter-mile in :25.12. A naturally fast 2-year-old, Maximus Mischief seized command leaving the first turn and led through a half-mile in :50.67 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:14.60.
“Running short he was always so sharp and keen, but Butch Reid did an awesome job getting him ready for this race,” regular rider Frankie Pennington said. “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.”
A challenger took a run at Maximus Mischief approaching the top of the stretch, but Pennington gave his mount a couple of shakes of the reins and he switched leads effortlessly and surged away to a 2 ½-length lead in early stretch.
Maximus Mischief appeared to be tiring a bit in the closing strides and switched back to his inside lead, but he was nonetheless much the best in a 2 ¼-length win. He matched his career-best 102 Equibase Speed Figure in the Remsen.
“To go from seven-eighths to a mile and an eighth, especially the way he did it, is a pretty good accomplishment,” Reid said. “He runs the turns really well and he swaps leads really good so that’s generally where he gets the drop on them.”
On Sunday, Reid said: “The most impressive part was how he acted in the paddock and all the prerace stuff, because he can be a handful in the paddock. In his new surroundings, he handled it very well. He stood perfectly in the paddock, which at Aqueduct can be a little foreboding. He handled it great and was cool as a cucumber and stood there perfectly when we put the tack on him. I was pretty confident with the way things were going to go after that.”
Maximus Mischief has terrific natural speed, and in the Remsen he showed a willingness to harness that speed early and reserve it for when he needs it most. With a pair of 102 Equibase Speed Figures, he fits with the top 2-year-olds on dirt, as Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner’s career-best is a 107.
Running style: Maximus Mischief showed a new dimension in the Remsen: the ability to rate off the pace. But because the pace was so slow, we didn’t really find out if he could either drop back a few lengths and make a run or closely track a swift pace and still have enough stamina in reserve to finish powerfully.
He used a :23.88 quarter-mile between three-quarters of a mile and a mile to take command of the race and then closed it out with a final eighth of a mile in a less-than-stellar 12.86 seconds.
So, we learned a little but probably not enough to make a sound judgment on whether this colt can stalk the pace or if he will profile as a pace/press-the-pace type as a 3-year-old. Either way, early speed will be a key asset for Maximus Mischief moving forward, and he seems willing to respond to his rider’s cues to use his speed when needed.
Connections: The partnership of Cash is King Stable and LC Racing owns Maximus Mischief. Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King operation is best known as the owner of 2005 champion 3-year-old male Afleet Alex. Cash Is King also raced 2016 Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia and co-owns 2018 Tito's Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk. LC Racing is the racing stable of George and Glenn Bennet.
Butch Reid took out his trainer’s license in 1985 and has amassed 751 wins through Dec. 3. Reid is based at Parx, but his biggest wins came at Churchill Downs in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Marathon with Afleet Again and at Saratoga Race Course in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap with Poseidon’s Warrior in 2012. Reid has 41 stakes wins and nine graded stakes victories on his résumé.
Frankie Pennington has been aboard Maximus Mischief for each of his three starts. Pennington, who took out his jockey’s license in 2003, earned his fourth career graded stakes win in the Remsen. He has won 2,335 races through Dec. 3.
Neither Pennington nor Reid has had a starter in the Kentucky Derby. Afleet Alex ran third in the 2005 Derby for Cash is King; Diamond King ran seventh in this year’s Preakness for a partnership that included Cash is King and LC Racing.
Pedigree: Stamina appears to be a significant concern for Maximus Mischief on the Kentucky Derby trail as he tries to stretch out to 1 ¼ miles.
His sire, Into Mischief, was a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/16 miles as a 2-year-old but was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail due to minor injuries and raced exclusively at seven-eighths of a mile as a 3-year-old, winning a stakes race and closing his career with a second in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. On the bright side, Into Mischief is a half-sibling (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to four-time champion Beholder, who was a Grade 1 winner versus males at 1 ¼ miles; and Mendelssohn, a Group 2 winner in Dubai at 1 1/8 miles and runner-up in the 2018 Runhappy Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
As a sire, Into Mischief has excelled with 53 stakes winners and 20 group/graded stakes winners from seven crops age 2 and older. His top runners Goldencents (two-time Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner), Practical Joke, and Vyjack were primarily milers and his Canadian champions Conquest Enforcer and Miss Mischief profile as sprinters/milers. But as Maximus Mischief proved, 1 1/8 miles certainly is within range of Into Mischief’s progeny as it was for Goldencents in winning the 2013 Santa Anita Derby, Vicar’s in Trouble in winning the 2014 Louisiana Derby, and Audible when prevailing earlier this year in the Xpressbet Florida Derby. Audible, of course, went on to run third to Justify in the 2018 Kentucky Derby despite a dam who was a pure sprinter and, perhaps, offers the most hope for Maximus Mischief from a pedigree standpoint.
Like Audible, Maximus Mischief has a dam who was a sprinter. His dam Reina Maria had four lifetime wins that all came at six or 6 ½ furlongs. Reina Maria is by the speedy Songandaprayer, a Grade 1 winner who authored the fastest opening half-mile in Kentucky Derby history in 2001 when he blitzed the first four furlongs in 44.86 seconds before fading to 13th.
Maximus Mischief’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Maria’s Pride, also was a sprinter whose four wins came at either 5 ½ furlongs or three-quarters of a mile. In addition to Reina Maria, Maria’s Pride also produced Secret Compass, a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/16 miles as a 2-year-old in 2013.
My hunch is that 1 ¼ miles will be stretching the distance limitations of Maximus Mischief, but as a winner at 1 1/8 miles and with plenty of time to build a solid foundation, he could, like Audible, run a big race under the Twin Spires in the Kentucky Derby. If he does, however, it probably will be despite his pedigree, not because of it.
Maximus Mischief appears to be an elite talent with a strong mind who should be formidable on the 2018 Derby trail. Like many of his peers, stamina will be a question when it comes to the 1 ¼-mile Derby distance, but it’s hard not to like what we’ve seen from this colt so far.