In a shedrow that features more than one proven Grade I hero, it ironic that the quitely-consistent Silver Max has emerged as the savior of Dale Romans’s barn this year.
He didn’t have the top-level wins and his level of flash was always eclipsed by others. But with torrential rain wreaking havoc on the headline race of Keeneland’s fall meet and the horse regarded as the world’s best at his flank Saturday, the 4-year-old showed why his Eclipse Award-winning conditioner counts on him above all others in times of stress.
It had been more than 12 months since reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan ended a race other than in the winner’s circle. Circumstances and a dead-fit Silver Max brought the champion back to mortal ranks when the latter ended his nine race winning streak with a gate-to-wire exhibition in the $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile.
The “Turf” portion of this year’s race ended up being in name only. With over an inch and a half of rain drenching the area, Keeneland officials consulted with the jockeys after Better Lucky won the Grade I First Lady Stakes on the turf and announced the Shadwell would be taken off the grass and run at 1 1/16-miles over the main Polytrack.
The change in conditions meant the Shadwell is no longer considered a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup race, which would have covered entry fees and a travel stipend of $10,000 for the winner. It’s Grade I status also must now be reviewed by the American Graded Stakes committee, but with no scratches in the 10-horse, it is expected to keep the grade.
The above drama only added to Silver Max’s incredulous feat. Where Wise Dan is the track record holder for 1 1/8-miles over the Keeneland Polytrack, Silver Max was running on a synthetic track for the first time in his 22 career starts. After making 10 starts in 2012, the Shadwell was Silver Max’s 7th start this year – a factor Romans credits to the colt’s current form.
“I didn’t know how he would act on the Polytrack but..Dan came running at him and Max had a lot left,” Romans said. “This is a fast horse and we wanted to take it to him. Last year we had a worn out horse come the fall and we realized that and did things different this year to point for the Breeders’ Cup (Mile). I think that’s the big key to him, being fresh this year for the fall.”
After winning 20 graded stakes in 2012, the Romans barn didn’t pick up a graded score this year until Silver Max captured the Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth Park on July 28.
Of the five graded stakes wins Romans has amassed this season, the bay son of Badge of Silver has accounted for three of them including a triumph in the Grade II Bernard Baruch on August 31. And all of those wins came exactly the way Saturday’s did, with him winging away up front.
“You’ve got to have a go to horse and he’s been the go to horse this year,” Romans said.
Breaking from post No. 9 under jockey Robby Albarado, Silver Max was well in hand through fractions of :23.79 of :46.73 as John Velazquez had Wise Dan in stalking position on an outside path.
Wise Dan, who won last year’s Shadwell by 2 1/4 lengths, looked set to unleash his run around the final turn. Instead of sailing by with his trademark ease, his chestnut pistons were only good enough for second as Silver Max hit the wire 1 1/4 lengths in front in a time of 1:42.06.
“Johnny said that horse won fair and square,” said Charlie LoPresti, trainer of Wise Dan. “Usually he’s dragging him there and he thinks he can get by them but he was getting tired.”
LoPresti said he would have scratched Wise Dan from the Shadwell had the race remained on the turf but did not blame the track conditions for his gelding’s first loss since the 2012 Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap.
“Maybe with the water on (the track), who knows how it plays. It could be more sticky,” LoPresti said. “But I’m not going to make any excuses.”