10/03/2012 2:21PM

Breeders' Cup Mile: Speedy Silver Max tries to prove himself against older horses

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Front-running Silver Max will get a trial by fire in the Shadwell Turf Mile in preparation for a possible start in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Back in July, riding a six-race win streak and with a high cruising speed that never seemed to slacken, the 3-year-old turf horse Silver Max had a future where the sky seemed like the limit. Turns out something like 1 1/8 miles is his limit.

The fleet son of Badge of Silver stretched his speed over 10 furlongs to win the Virginia Derby on July 21, but Silver Max had to work harder that evening than at any point during his streak of front-running scores last spring and summer. And when it came to his second try over 1 1/4 miles, in the Aug. 18 Secretariat Stakes, Silver Max said, ‘No mas,’ fading to fifth after failing to hold his early lead even into the homestretch.

“When you get a good turf 3-year-old, you’ve got to try and stretch him for the two big races in Virginia and at Arlington,” trainer Dale Romans said on a conference call this week. “But I think when it’s all said and done, he’s going to be an excellent miler the rest of this year and next year.”

Silver Max turns back to a distance at which he’s more naturally suited Saturday, when he starts at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile. But go and ahead and call this trial by fire. A strong Shadwell field includes North America’s leading turf miler, Wise Dan, and if Silver Max can make a major dent in this field, he’ll prove himself a worthy participant in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, a race that Romans won last year with the rank outsider Court Vision.

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: DRF top 10 lists, video replays, latest news]

The Shadwell, along with the Arroyo Seco Mile on Saturday at Santa Anita and the Prix de la Foret on Sunday at Longchamp in France, is one of three races this weekend with potential BC Mile implications. While the seven-furlong Foret does not appear to contain any obvious Mile contenders, the Arroyo Seco might help sort out a California contingent that includes Obviously, Mr. Commons, Jeranimo, and My Best Brother. Besides Wise Dan and Silver Max, the Shadwell has a pool of BC Mile possible that includes Dominus, Corporate Jungle, and Data Link.

While Silver Max gets a distance he probably prefers Saturday, he faces older horses for the first time and finds himself in a race with other pace factors. But as far as Romans is concerned, the shorter trip allows Silver Max to make the most of his best asset, his strong early speed.

“I think he can pretty much run all out for a flat mile, and it’s not as important that he has to go slow early,” Romans said.

“We’re asking a lot out of him – even without Wise Dan – to step up against some of these older, tougher, more seasoned colts for the first time. So we’ll see what he’s made of,” Romans said. “I think he’s a very talented horse; he’s shown it all year, and now he needs to step up and go to the next level.”

The BC Mile gained two noteworthy players this week in Animal Kingdom and Duntle. Animal Kingdom is the far better known horse, thanks to his 2011 Kentucky Derby win. But Duntle, racing in stakes competition on turf for the first time and making his first start since February, is a proven grass miler with more recent form. A 3-year-old filly owned by the Niarchos family and trained by David Wachman, Duntle has finished first in four of her six starts. She was disqualified to second after beating the solid Chachamaidee by a nose while making her Group 1 debut in the Matron Stakes on Sept. 8 at Leopardstown in Ireland.

Not many Mile-related stakes remain after this weekend, although leading European candidate Excelebration now seems likely to make his next start in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Oct. 20 at Ascot.