It didn't go as smoothly as planned but odds-on choice Silver Max got the job done anyway in the $600,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT), registering his sixth consecutive turf win on yielding ground at rainy Colonial Downs July 21 (VIDEO).
Silver Max, ridden by Robby Albarado, won for the first time on a turf course that wasn't firm. The 4-5 pick also conquered the 1 1/4-mile distance in his first try as he improved his standing as the nation's leading 3-year-old on grass.
The pacesetting Silver Max had to overcome a rank horse on the backstretch, Two Months Rent, who bolted to the front when jockey Julian Pimentel's saddle slipped forward and he lost control.
"It didn't worry me," Albarado said of the trouble. "I was worried he (Silver Max) might be worried and take off."
Albarado, who won the Virginia Oaks (gr. IIIT) a race earlier on Volcat, completed a sweep of the graded races on the Colonial Downs program. Silver Max also marked the third win in the race for trainer Dale Romans, who won it previously with Paddy O'Prado in 2010 and in 2004 with Kitten's Joy .
Silver Max handled the adversity to defeat the late-closing Lucky Chappy by one length while completing the 10-furlong distance in 2:04.05. Finnegans Wake, also trained by Romans, was edged for the runner-up spot by a half-length.
Owned by Mark Bacon and Dana Wells, Sliver Max is a son of Badge of Silver out of the Kissin Kris mare Kissin Rene. Bred in Kentucky by Steve Snowden and Seth and Will Lauffer, the bay colt was a $20,000 yearling purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sale in July 2010.
The winning streak for Silver Max, which includes graded victories in the Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) and American Turf (gr. IIT) in addition to the Virginia Derby, has been accomplished at six different racetracks.
"This is a special horse," said Romans. "The only question was if he could get the mile-and-the-quarter. Now I don't know what it would take for another horse to beat him."
Silver Max earned $352,800 for the most lucrative victory of his career, boosting his career bankroll to $855,967.
As expected, Silver Max showed the way from between horses early, getting the opening quarter mile in :24.91 while racing well off the rail and opening up a three-length edge after a half mile in :50.21. He was being tracked by Coach Royal and Two Months Rent, who suddenly bolted to the lead on the outside of rivals with Pimentel clinging to his neck.
Silver Max, who had not been headed during his winning streak, seemed unfazed, however, and continued to plug along in second with Coach Royal and Easy Crossing still in contention. Two Months Rent eventually pulled up and Silver Max regained the lead rounding the far turn. In upper stretch, Coach Royal and Finnegans Wake intensified the pressure and Silver Max momentarily looked vulnerable. But Albarado put him to the whip and Silver Max answered, opening a two-length lead and holding sway to the wire.
"He has a tremendous turn of foot," said Albarado after his first Virginia Derby victory. "All I had to do was ask."
The Irish-bred Lucky Chappy appeared to be having trouble with the ground but found his best stride in the stretch on the outside for Alan Garcia and was gaining with every stride before running out of time. Finnegans Wake, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, was a game third.
Silver Max improved his overall record to 7-5-0 in 13 races. He has won seven of 10 starts on grass with three seconds. He had not previously raced longer than 1 1/16 miles.
Romans said he has his eye on the 10-furlong Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) Aug. 18 for Silver Max, with the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at 12 furlongs the goal in the fall.
"If everything keeps going like it's going, we'll have some fun," he said.
Under top weight of 123 pounds, he paid $3.80, $2.80, $2.40. Team Valor International's Lucky Chappy, making his first appearance since finishing seventh in the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-II) in Dubai March 31 for trainer Graham Motion, returned $4.80 and $3.20. The exacta was worth $17.60. Finnegans Wake paid $2.60 to show.
Optimizer , returned to the turf by trainer D. Wayne Lukas after competing unsuccessfully in all three jewels of the Triple Crown, finished 2 3/4 lengths farther back in fourth. He was followed by Coach Royal, Mr. Handsome, and Easy Crossing.