Silver Max took the lead soon after the start and was never headed as he staved off a couple of late challengers to win the $238,200 American Turf Stakes (gr. IIT) in an eventful race at Churchill Downs May 4 (VIDEO).
Jockey Javier Castellano was dropped from his mount, Star Channel, who swerved approaching the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile event for 3-year-olds. Scheduled to ride morning-line favorite Grace Hall in the upcoming Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), Castellano was loaded onto a stretcher and taken off the course by ambulance. But he was walking under his own power after returning to the jockeys' quarters and was cleared to continue riding after sustaining apparently minor injuries in the fall.
Star Channel, who was racing toward the rear of the field, ran off after losing his rider and did not appear to be injured as he was controlled by an outrider on the backstretch.
The start of the American Turf was delayed for more than 50 minutes due to a quickly approaching thunderstorm that forced the temporary evacuation of the Churchill Downs infield. Once the storm cleared folllowing a light shower, the race remained on the turf.
Rafael Bejarano was the substitute rider on 5-1 shot Silver Max for trainer Dale Romans and owners Mark Bacon and Dana Wells. He replaced Robby Albarado, who was off all his mounts after being arrested in an alleged domestic assault.
"This is a really super turf horse," Romans said. "I didn’t care about the jockey situation on a business level or on a jockey level. I was concerned for my friend (Albarado), but everything else was going to be easy -- you just go to the front and hang on. And that’s what Rafael did, just what we told him in the paddock, just open up a couple down the backside and he’s got great stamina."
Silver Max, the third choice in the field of 13, earned his third consecutive victory for Romans, who won the American Turf for the third time in his career. The winning son of Badge of Silver was timed in 1:41.10 on a turf course rated firm while holding safe the 24-1 runner-up Travel Advisory and second choice Howe Great in a solid effort. Gung Ho, the slight 7-2 favorite in a well-matched field, finished seventh.
Steve C. Snowden and Seth and Will Lauffer bred Silver Max in Kentucky. The bay colt, out of the Kissin Kris mare Kissin Rene, sold for $20,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale in 2010.
Breaking from post post 12, Bejarano hustled Silver Max to the lead over Blueskiesnrainbows soon after the start while angling in. They showed the way over Blueskiesnrainbows, Scatman, and Coalport by about 1 1/2 lengths while racing slightly off the rail, posting quarter-mile fractions of :23. 12, :46.60, and 1:10.69.
Silver Max opened up comfortably by about three lengths in upper stretch, then dug in to maintain his advantage for the final furlong as the late runners Travel Advisory and Howe Great tried to close in.
“My horse was much the best in the race," Bejarano said. "He got to the lead pretty easy and he showed me a really big kick in the stretch.”
Travel Advisory, ridden by Manoel Cruz, finished three-quarters of a length in front of Howe Great and John Velazquez.
Silver Max came into the race off a 5 1/2-length triumph in the Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the Keeneland turf April 6, his first stakes win. It took Silver Max six starts to break his maiden but the colt has been worse than second just once in a 10-race career.
“It was all mental with him. I don’t think he understood competing early in his career," Romans said. "When he figured it out, though, he figured it out.”
His lifetime mark stands at 4-5-0 with earnings of $306,821. The American Turf victory was worth $137,346.
Under co-high weight of 120 pounds, Silver Max paid $12.40, $7, and $5, while keying a $239.60 exacta. Travel Advisory, disregarded in spite of running second to Silver Max in the Transylvania for trainer Kellyn Gorder, returned $21.60 and $11.60. Team Valor International's Howe Great, returning to the turf after a fifth-place finish in Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I), paid $4.80 to show.
"We were hoping the pace would be more contested," Gorder said. "The leader just got his own way. The one thing Manny (Cruz) told me is this horse is going to love a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half. Overall we are really pleased.”