07/12/2012 3:58PM

Arlington Park: Silver Max stretching it in American Derby

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Silver Max wins the Transylvania at Keeneland

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Silver Max does everything a grass horse isn’t supposed to do. He dashes out of the gate full-throttle and makes straight for the lead. His jockey might try to take a rating hold, cajoling Silver Max to relax and burst home later, but Silver Max doesn’t go for that. He runs free, setting fast fractions that would knock out most horses racing two turns on turf. But Silver Max, so far, has not slowed down.

“He doesn’t mind anything,” said trainer Dale Romans, who has elected to try and stretch Silver Max’s win streak to six this weekend in the Grade 3, $200,000 American Derby rather than wait a week and go for the richer Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs.

Maybe Silver Max will carry his speed forever. It’s more likely he’ll hit distance limitations sometime, and that breaking point might even come Saturday, when Silver Max races an eighth of a mile farther than he’s gone before in the 1 3/16-mile American Derby.

Seeing Silver Max is interesting in itself, but Saturday’s Million Preview Day at Arlington offers much more. The American Derby goes as race 8 on a strong 12-race card that includes three other Grade 3 turf races linked to richer pots on Aug. 18, Arlington Million Day. The American Derby is a prep for the Secretariat, the Arlington Handicap a prep for the Million, the Modesty a local lead-in to the Beverly D., and the Stars and Stripes a stepping-stone to the newly created $400,000 American St. Leger. The Arlington Handicap drew an especially deep field this year, headed by New Yorkers Boisterous and Sky Blazer. The Stars and Stripes features the talents of 10-year-old Musketier, a gallant winner of the Grade 3 Singspiel last out at Woodbine.

Silver Max is one of 10 American Derby entrants and one of three from trainer Dale Romans, who won’t decide until Friday morning exactly which combination of Silver Max, Cozzetti, and Quick Wit will van from Churchill to Arlington.

Silver Max, who drew post 6 and will be ridden by Robby Albarado, came out of nowhere this spring. Second in a $50,000 maiden claimer in his debut, he didn’t win a race until his sixth start, but since then has gone 6 for 7 while winning four straight stakes. But it’s fair to wonder how far Silver Max will stay. His pedigree as much as his speedy style suggests limitations: Silver Max’s sire, Badge of Silver, was a fast sprinter/middle distance sort, and the minor accomplishments of his dam and four siblings who raced came in sprints.

Sachem Spirit, who has finished first or second in all four of his races, rallied to within two lengths of Silver Max in the May 26 Arlington Classic, and that after a poor start left him farther behind the leader than desirable.

“He definitely has tactical pace, but last time he got a little impeded at the start and that cost him being where he needs to be,” said trainer Neil Howard. “I think he’ll stay closer. For a big horse, he leaves comfortably and lopes into a good spot.”

Daddy Nose Best disappointed in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but may appreciate a return to turf, over which he was especially impressive winning a first-level allowance race last fall at Churchill.

“I’m looking forward to running him, and I just think it’s a nice opportunity to get him over the Triple Crown,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “The chief concern is how good Silver Max is.”

Among the others, Skyring might rate the best chance at an upset. Last of nine in the June 9 Easy Goer at Belmont, he won the $100,000 Jim Murphy at Pimlico in his lone prior turf try.