‘Level-Headed’ Max Player Puts In Final Work For Saturday’s Travers

George E. Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds Corp.’s Max Player worked five furlongs in 1:01.55 seconds Monday on the Belmont dirt training track in preparation for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers at Saratoga Race Course.

Trainer Linda Rice said the dark bay Honor Code colt is in good order and will ship up to Saratoga on Wednesday.

“We worked him in company head and head with another horse and they went five-eighths in 1:01.2. It was just a maintenance breeze,” said Rice. “It was just a nice comfortable breeze. I feel it was exactly what he needed. He’ll ship up to Saratoga on Wednesday and train there.”

Max Player, bred in Kentucky by K & G Stables, graduated at second asking at Parx in December and followed up with a 3 ¼-length score in the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct Racetrack on February 1.

Last out, racing off a more than four-month layoff in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 20, Max Player rallied to complete the trifecta behind the victorious Tiz the Law and runner-up Dr Post.

This morning’s breeze was the fifth over the Belmont dirt training track since his Belmont effort for the improving Max Player.

“He trained very well into the Belmont and had improved dramatically up to June when the Belmont ran,” said Rice. “Since then, we’ve been holding steady. I haven’t trained him quite as aggressively because he’s not coming off of a five-month layoff this time.”

Although Max Player won’t have the chance to breeze over the Saratoga main track ahead of the Runhappy Travers, he will gallop here later in the week. Rice said she is confident the dark bay will handle the surface.

“He shipped to Parx and ran well. He shipped to Aqueduct and won the Withers on February 1st and had never trained at Aqueduct, he just shipped over from Belmont,” said Rice. “I’m not concerned. He’s a pretty level-headed horse and he’s easy to train in that respect.”

Joel Rosario, currently second in the Saratoga jockey standings, retains the mount.

Trainer Orlando Noda, who operates Noda Brothers with his brother Jonathan, confirmed Monday that jockey David Cohen would pick up the mount on maiden winner First Line for Saturday’s Grade 1 Runhappy Travers.

First Line, a First Samurai chestnut, earned an 84 Beyer when graduating at fourth asking July 29 in a nine-furlong maiden route at the Spa.

Cohen guided 33-1 shot Golden Ticket to a dramatic dead-heat win with Alpha in the 2012 Travers. Noda said the veteran rider would gallop First Line on the Saratoga main track on Tuesday.

“I think he’ll give us a good, honest ride,” said Noda. “He’ll get on him tomorrow and gallop on the main track and get a feel for the horse.

“It doesn’t happen very often to have a horse peak at the right time,” added Noda. “But everything happens for a reason and I think he’ll outrun his odds.”

Trainer Mike Stidham said Godolphin homebred Mystic Guide, a closing third last out in the Grade 3 Peter Pan on Opening Day at Saratoga, would take a pass on the Runhappy Travers and point instead to the Grade 2, $150,000 Jim Dandy, a nine-furlong test for sophomores on September 5.

“We’re not going to run in the Travers, we’re going to hold off and probably run in the Jim Dandy,” said Stidham. “We’ve been conservative with the horse up to this point and we’ll stay conservative for now.”

The field for Saturday’s Runhappy Travers currently stands at eight and includes, Caracaro [Gustavo Delgado/Javier Castellano], Country Grammer [Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz, Jr.], First Line [Orlando Noda/David Cohen], Max Player [Linda Rice/Joel Rosario], Shivaree [Ralph Nicks/Junior Alvarado], South Bend [Bill Mott/Jose Ortiz], Tiz the Law [Barclay Tagg/Manny Franco], and Uncle Chuck [Bob Baffert/Luis Saez].

The “Mid-Summer Derby” to be contested at 1 1/4 miles for the country’s most talented 3-year-olds is one of three Grade 1s on Saturday, joining the $300,000 Ballerina presented by NYRA Bets for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up going seven furlongs in a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

The day will also see sophomore fillies compete in the prestigious Grade 1, $300,000 Longines Test at seven furlongs, with the card bolstered by the Grade 3, $200,000 Troy, a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for older males, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Waya , a 1 ½-mile turf route for older fillies and mares.

The card will be broadcast on Saratoga Live on FOX Sports and MSG Networks.

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