By Nicholas Godfrey
Belmont Park (July 3): Suburban Stakes G2 $400,000, 1m2f, dirt, 4yo+
Max Player (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana)
USA: Dubai World Cup winner Mystic Guide lost out in a final-furlong battle with Max Player for the G2 Suburban on his return to action after a three-month break at a sloppy Belmont on Saturday.
Despite a neck defeat – albeit against a horse in receipt of 4lb – the Godolphin team were satisfied with the four-year-old’s effort in this Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge contest for the Classic at Del Mar on November 6.
“Certainly no disgrace in defeat,” said trainer Mike Stidham. “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.”
Sent off a narrow favourite ahead of previously unbeaten Happy Saver, Mystic Guide laid down his challenge at the head of the stretch and looked set to score only for game 12-1 shot Max Player to outbattle him close home. Happy Saver was another 2½ lengths back in third.
A regular player in top-quality contests, Max Player was winning for the first time since last year’s Withers Stakes. He subsequently ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown, finishing third in the Belmont; he was also third in the Travers.
Shall we talk about it?
Toby Sheets (assistant to Steve Asmussen, Max Player’s trainer): “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.”
Mike Stidham (Mystic Guide’s trainer): “Three months away and he comes back on a very difficult racetrack. Even though he handled the [sloppy] track at Oaklawn, this was a totally different surface. Luis 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.”
Todd Pletcher (Happy Saver’s trainer): “He ran just a touch flat. I don’t know if part of that was second off the layoff, the sloppy track, or stretching to a mile and a quarter against a good field of horses. I thought he showed a lot of class. He kept trying to the wire and got up for third. I’m hoping he’ll move forward off of this. It was only his second start of the year and we know there’s room for improvement.”