Once upon a time, there was a brilliant grass horse named Silver Max, who rattled off six consecutive turf victories, the last five of them stakes, including the grade II Virginia Derby and American Turf. And he did it leading every step of the way in each race.
Then, inexplicably, he lost his form, finishing out of the money in four straight races, including three grade Is. His front-running tactics failed him and he retreated early.
Just when all appeared bleak, trainer Dale Romans attempted to get the colt’s confidence back by entering him in a small overnight stakes at Churchill Downs called the Opening Verse. The race was taken off the turf and run over a sloppy sealed track, and lo and behold, Silver Max found his form once again, winning wire-to-wire by 9 1/2 lengths over two classy colts in Daddy Nose Best and Cease.
Did Romans stumble upon a new world for Silver Max? We’ll find out when the son of Badge of Silver —Kissin Rene, by Kissin Kris faces five opponents in the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III) on the night of June 29.
Robby Albarado will be aboard Silver Max, who is owned by Mark Bacon and Dana Wells and was bred in Kentucky by Steve Snowden and Seth and Will Lauffer. He will carry top weight of 118 pounds, conceding one to six pounds.
This year’s running of the Cornhusker bears no resemblance to last year’s when Fort Larned used the 1 1/8-mile race as a springboard to victories in the grade I Whitney Handicap and Breeders’ Cup Classic by easily defeating major stakes winners Successful Dan and Awesome Gem.
There certainly are no Fort Larneds or Successful Dans or Awesome Gems in this year’s renewal. In fact, two of his five opponents, Nicklaus Way and Tiz Ready, are former claimers with only one stakes appearance in 35 combined starts.
The only other consistently top-quality horse in the field is Zayat Stables’ Prayer for Relief, the former Bob Baffert-trained horse now in the hands of Steve Asmussen. The son of Jump Start is winless in 2012 and 2013, but does have second-place finishes in the recent Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) and Texas Mile (gr. III), as well as last year’s Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) and Governor Cup at Remington Park. He’s also finished third in the 2012 Californian, Strub, and San Fernando stakes (all grade II). The Cornhusker will mark a return to Prairie Meadows for the colt, who captured the 2011 Iowa Derby.
Both Silver Max and Prayer for Relief have excellent early speed, but they could be threatened up front by Taptowne, who set the early fractions in the grade II Oaklawn Handicap, but had to settle for second behind Cyber Secret. The son of Tapit is coming off a second-place finish in an allowance/optional claimer at Churchill Downs. Calvin Borel has the mount for trainer Tim Glyshaw.
Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III, Race 8, approximate post 9:50 p.m. EDT), 3YOs & Up, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Nicklaus Way (KY), L. R. Goncalves, 114, I. R. Wilkes
2. Silver Max (KY), R. Albarado, 118, D. Romans
3. Red Lead (FL), R. Eikleberry, 114 C. A. Hartman
4. Tiz Ready (KY), K. S. Tohill, 112, L. Chleborad
5. Prayer for Relief (KY), R. Santana Jr., 117, S. M. Asmussen
6. Taptowne (KY), C. H. Borel, 115, T. Glyshaw