In the days following Max Player’s victory in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes on Feb. 1 at Aqueduct, while many were starting to talk Kentucky Derby, trainer Linda Rice seemed more excited about the Belmont Stakes.
She believed Max Player could be one of the rare individuals that would relish the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont. Moreover, she believed with racing and time, Max Player could improve to the point where he’d be better prepared to tackle the upper echelon of the 3-year-old division, or at least those who were left following the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Well, Max Player has made it to the Belmont Stakes. While he’s had plenty of time, he’s had no racing since Feb. 1, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic that not only shut down racing but completely altered the Triple Crown series. The Kentucky Derby will be run on Sept. 5, the Preakness on Oct. 3 at Pimlico.
The Belmont will not be the last of the three races and won’t be run at 1 1/2 miles. Instead, it will be the first of the three races and will be run Saturday at 1 1/8 miles, around one turn.
“It’s a little disappointing because it seems like he would have been the stayer of the group,” Rice said. “The upside is a lot of those horses had a lot more seasoning and racing. Now that things have changed, it’s given him a chance to mature.”
If his training is any indication, Max Player has seemed to do just that. A horse who needed company to have a proper workout, Max Player has been lighting up the track in the morning by himself. Last Saturday, he went six furlongs in 1:12.25 over Belmont’s main track in an eye-catching drill.
“Frankly, the horse has shown a lot of improvement in the last 60 days, so it’s hard not to get excited about those things,” Rice said.
Prior to the Withers, Max Player, a son of Honor Code, had a second and a win in maiden races at Parx Racing.
For Rice, Max Player will represent her third starter in a Triple Crown race. In 2003, Supervisor finished fifth of six in the Belmont where Empire Maker ended Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid. In the 2014 Preakness, Rice sent out Kid Cruz to an eighth-place finish behind California Chrome.
Should Max Player win the Belmont, Rice would become the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race.
“It’s pretty exciting. I’ve had a lot of success, won a lot of different things, whether it be the Aqueduct winter meet two years in a row or the training title at Saratoga or the Eclipse Award with La Verdad,” said Rice, who in January reached the 2,000-win plateau. “But everybody aspires for these Triple Crown races. It’s nice to finally get the opportunity.”
George Hall, a hedge-fund manager, owns Max Player. In 2011, Hall along with his now ex-wife Lori, won the Belmont Stakes with Ruler On Ice. Hall has downsized his racing operation to the point where Max Player is the only horse he currently has racing, though there are a few 2-year-olds on the way.
“We moved from buying horses to breeding horses,” Hall said. “I have a farm in Versailles, Ky., and the idea was to build a broodmare band. Ultimately, as a lot of people do, you breed horses and you see if there’s an opportunity to sell them in the sale or keep them. As we put horses through the sale, we wound up selling a few of the mares at good prices, sold yearlings at reasonable prices, and naturally got smaller.”
Though Hall is the majority owner of Max Player, a financial technology company known as SportBLX owns 14 percent of the colt. Hall founded SportBLX with Joe De Perio, who worked for Hall’s hedge-fund company for 15 years.
SportBLX is a company that allows individuals to purchase shares of unique sports assets. While it plans to make a big push into baseball, basketball, football, and soccer, Hall and De Perio also offered shares in horses, owing to their passion for the sport. De Perio said there are 60 individuals who have invested in Max Player.
“What we want to do is bring new people in the sport and allow them accessibility,” De Perio said. “When you buy into Max Player you own an equity interest in Max Player. If he becomes a stallion, you can hold on to those shares or if you’re in it just to win the Belmont or the Travers you can sell your shares when he’s done racing.”
Individuals can invest in SportBLX for as little as $100 or as much as $25,000.
“The idea of allowing people to own a small part of a horse adds add to the excitement for fans in horse racing,” Hall said. “To own a piece of a horse running in the Belmont Stakes, Kentucky Derby, or Breeders’ Cup is something we want to bring to the public, and this is our attempt to do that.”
This article was written by David Grening and was originally published in the DRF June 15.