Max Player Wins Splashy Suburban, Earns Breeders' Cup Trip

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Max Player pulled off the upset in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The geographical distance between Meydan Racecourse and Belmont Park is about 6,800 miles.

On a racetrack, with $400,000 as well as a free spot in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic on the line, all those miles can be the difference between taking command turning for home en route to a convincing victory and finishing a game second.

For Godolphin's Mystic Guide, in his first start since winning the Group 1 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, some fatigue after his long international journey and more than three months on the sidelines came into play July 2 in the final furlongs of the $400,000 Grade 2 Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park.

After moving up along the rail to gain a narrow lead at the top of the stretch, the homebred son of Ghostzapper had all those miles and days catch up with him. Though he fought gamely to the wire, Mystic Guide was unable to repel a determined bid by George Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds' Max Player, who poked a nose in front at the sixteenth pole and continued battling until he posted a hard-fought victory by a neck.

"He's kind of a funny horse," said assistant trainer Toby Sheets, who saddled Max Player for trainer Steve Asmussen. "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."

As "nice" as the victorious son of Honor Code ran, for the Mystic Guide camp there was disappointment that was balanced by their colt's highly competitive performance on a sloppy, sealed racetrack that should give him better conditioning for the grade 1 stakes on the horizon.

"Three months away and he comes back on a very difficult racetrack. Even though he handled the (sloppy) track at Oaklawn (in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap), this was a totally different surface," trainer Michael Stidham said. "(Jockey Luis Saez) said he was tired through the lane. It's not that surprising that a horse coming off three months might get tired off this kind of a racetrack. Certainly there was 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."

Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin USA, also categorized the Suburban as a useful effort in the overall scheme of getting to the Classic and chasing an Eclipse Award.

"The takeaway is that this was a game effort. He was certainly trying the whole way down the stretch. (Saez) said he got tired and rightfully so," Bell said about the 4-5 favorite who was first in the most recent National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll and second in the initial BC Classic rankings. "The encouraging thing is that he never quit. We're disappointed in not winning but we're very happy in his effort. It's something to build on."

Wide-spread happiness best describes the feelings of the Max Player camp as the victory punched a "Win and You're In" ticket to the Nov. 6 Classic at Del Mar for the 4-year-old's more than 700 owners through SportBLX Thoroughbreds which sells microshares of the son of the Not For Love mare Fools in Love.

"If you see him in the paddock, he was looking unbelievable," said jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. "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."

Even with all those owners, Max Player went off at 11-1 in the Suburban, his popularity at the betting windows diluted by a string of weak efforts in some of the sport's top races. Third last year in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes, he was unplaced in subsequent starts in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, and Group 1 Saudi Cup.

Most recently he was sixth in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Match Series Stakes before the Suburban helped to draw the proverbial line through those performances.

"He was training really, really well," Sheets said. "This puts him back on the map. We'll enjoy today and go from there."

Meanwhile, bettors focused on the rematch from the 2020 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes between Saturday's two favorites, Mystic Guide and Happy Saver.

Max Player, in the pink and orange silks, battles with Mystic Guide, in the blue silks, in the Suburban stretch run. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Wertheimer et Frere's Happy Saver beat Mystic Guide by three-quarters-of-a-length in the JCGC and brought a perfect 5-for-5 record into the Suburban, though he lacked a strong stretch run and settled for third as the 8-5 second choice.

Moretti set the early pace in the 1 1/4-mile Suburban, leading by a length over Max Player after a half-mile in :47.67. On the turn, both Mystic Guide and Max Player set sail for the leader, with Mystic Guide moving up along the rail and Max Player traveling outside of Moretti.

By the quarter pole, after a mile in 1:36.35, Mystic Guide held a half-length lead but was unable to pull away as he did in his 3 3/4-length score in the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Though Moretti dropped back, Max Player ($25.60) stayed glued to Mystic Guide in the stretch before proving best in the final sixteenth.

In winning for the third time in 10 career starts, and adding another stakes to a resume that already included a score in the 2020 Grade 3 Withers Stakes, Max Player was timed in 2:01.95.

Bred by K & G Stables in Kentucky, Max Player is a half-brother to group 2 winner Seahenge.

He is the fifth foal from Fools in Love, who has produced four stakes-placed runners. Her most recent foals are 2-year-old and weanling colts from Ulysses and a yearling Frankel filly.

Happy Saver, a son of Super Saver trained by Todd Pletcher, was third by a neck over Moretti, 2 1/2 lengths behind Mystic Guide in his second start since the Oct. 10 JCGC.

2021 Suburban S.
July 3rd, 2021

5 Max Player
4 Mystic Guide
6 Happy Saver
1 Moretti
2 Informative
3 Prioritize

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