Leading turf three-year-old Silver Max continued his winning ways Saturday in the Grade 2, $600,000 Virginia Derby, making it six straight with a comfortable one-length score over the yielding turf at Colonial Downs. He entered the 1 1/4-mile test with an impressive resume but no experience past 8 1/2 furlongs, but the additional ground proved to be no obstacle for the Dale Romans-trained colt, who will likely head to the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park August 18 as the horse to beat.
Silver Max went straight to the lead as expected when the gates opened and was kept well off the rail entering the first turn by jockey Robby Albarado, completing the opening quarter-mile in :24 4/5 with a 3 1/2-length cushion. He continued to sail along into the backstretch, three lengths clear after a half-mile in :50 1/5, but the bay son of Badge of Silver suddenly came under pressure midway down the backside from Two Months Rent, whose saddle slipped. Jockey Julian Pimenthal had no control of his mount and Two Months Rent went charging to the front while extremely wide.
Albarado did not panic aboard Silver Max, who willingly gave up the lead for the first time in his last seven starts. After three-quarters of a mile in 1:14, Silver Max moved back to the fore and began to edge away again on the far turn. He entered the stretch full of run, passing the mile mark in 1:39 2/5 with a 1 1/2-length advantage, and was kept to task while never being threatened late, stopping the teletimer in 2:04.
Silver Max was favored at 4-5 in the eight-horse field.
Lucky Chappy, the near 6-1 fourth choice in the wagering, rallied well in the final stages to grab second, a half-length better than 7-2 second choice Finnegans Wake. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to the 5-1 Optimizer in fourth, and Coach Royal, Mr. Handsome and Easy Crossing came next under the wire. Two Months Rent was safely pulled up, and Summer Front scratched.
Owned by Mark Bacon and Dana Wells, Silver Max has now earned $855,967 from a 13-7-5-0 record. He needed six starts before breaking his maiden on Gulfstream Park's turf in January and after a well-beaten fifth in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on dirt, Silver Max switched back to turf with a gusto. His sterling win streak began with a 3 3/4-length romp over allowance/optional claiming rivals at Gulfstream in March and he followed with a convincing 5 1/2-length triumph in Keeneland's Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes.
Next came a 2 3/4-length, tour-de-force performance in the Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill Downs. Silver Max continued to humble the competition with a facile two-length win in the Arlington Classic and he entered the Virginia Derby off a 6 3/4-length, track record-setting performance in the June 13 Oliver Stakes, completing a mile over the Indiana Downs' turf in 1:33 4/5.
Bred in Kentucky by Steve Snowden, Seth Lauffer and Will Lauffer, Silver Max was a $20,000 Fasig-Tipton July yearling. Produced by the Kissin Kris mare Kissin Rene, he is half-brother to stakes winner True Kiss. This is the extended family of Grade 1 winner Yes It's True, Grade 2 winner Kiss a Native, and Grade 3 hero Prince of the Mt.