Some will say, “He didn’t run very fast.” Others will claim, “He didn’t beat top competition.” But you won’t hear anyone knocking the pedigree of Max Player, who joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a decisive 3 1/4-length victory in the Feb. 1 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct. Max Player clearly relished the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Withers, utilizing his stamina to overcome a very wide trip, and from top to bottom his breeding suggests the extra furlong of the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby will be within his distance capabilities.
For starters, Max Player is a son of Honor Code, the champion older dirt male of 2015. Winner of the 1 1/8-mile Whitney (G1) and third in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Honor Code thrived running a mile or farther, hardly a surprise since his sire—1992 Belmont Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy—is renowned as a strong source of stamina.
Technically, we don’t know yet how much stamina Honor Code will pass on to his progeny; his first foals are 3-year-olds of 2020, and they haven’t had many opportunities to stretch out over extended distances. But if Max Player’s Withers success is any indication, Honor Code is ready to follow in his sire’s footsteps as a source of stamina.
Max Player also figures to inherit endurance from his female family. Although his dam, Fools in Love, secured her signature victory in the 7-furlong Orleans S. at Delta Downs, she also won three races running a mile or farther and has produced predominantly long-winded foals. Three of her first four starters won multiple races over at least a mile, including the stakes-placed duo Urban Bourbon and Frank’s Folly.
Some might point out Fools in Love’s most successful foal, the Ireland-based Champagne (G2) winner Seahenge, never won going farther than 7 furlongs and struggled when running long as a 3-year-old. But the son of Scat Daddy was an early-maturing juvenile who seemingly failed to progress at three, likely a bigger factor in his lack of long-term success than any stamina limitations.
Handicappers can also be encouraged by the presence of Not For Love as Max Player’s broodmare sire. A versatile son of Mr. Prospector—who counts dozens of classic winners among his descendants—Not For Love was a versatile horse who won on both dirt and turf over distances ranging from 6 furlongs to 1 3/16 miles. A successful stallion in Maryland, Not For Love has proven even more influential as a broodmare sire. Case in point? His daughter Love the Chase produced 2014 Kentucky Derby winner and two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome.
Whether Max Player has the speed and class to win the Kentucky Derby won’t be apparent until the first Saturday in May. But there’s no reason to doubt the stamina of this stoutly-bred colt.