Win And You’re In: Max Player Upsets His Way To The Breeders’ Cup Classic

Written By Paul Bergeron on July 6, 2021 - Last Updated on July 25, 2021
Upset win by Max Player starts off a summer of highly contested races before November’s Breeders' Cup.

It’s not too early to start handicapping the 2021 Breeders’ Cup. Horse racing’s ultimate event is Nov. 5-6 at Del Mar. Horse players can begin during the summer with the “Win and You’re In” racing series.

These races, which began in the United States on May 31, are ramping up as the calendar turns to July. With each, the competition becomes more telling and even more interesting. About two dozen such races are run at tracks across the country and globally.

There are “Win and You’re In” races for each of the Breeders Cup’s 14 races, including the climactic race, The Classic. 

Saturday (July 3) featured a “Win and You’re In” race for the Classic at Belmont Park. Max Player pulled off an upset at 11-1 in the $400,000 Grade 2 Suburban. He overcame odds-on favorite Mystic Guide in the final strides to win by a neck in the thrilling 10-furlong race on a muddy track.

Surprise win for underachieving Max Player

A third-place finisher in the 2020 Belmont, Max Player had been struggling for most of the past year, not having won since taking the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in February 2020. But Saturday, under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. and trainer Steve Asmussen, Max Player recorded a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 101.

It’s unknown when and where Max Player will run next as he prepares for the Breeders’ Cup. Some are pointing to the Woodward in early October at Belmont Park (a race held at Saratoga from 2005 to 2020). Others suggest the Grade 1 Whitney (Aug. 7 at Saratoga), but Asmussen said after the win that Aug. 7 might be too soon for his horse, given the effort Max Player put forth on Saturday.

The Suburban was the third of nine such series races that grant automatic berths at the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 4-year-old Cafe Pharoah became the first such horse to qualify when he won the February Stakes (G1) at Tokyo Racecourse in Japan on Feb. 16. The second automatic qualifier in the division was Maxfield, who won the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on June 26. It was Maxfield’s seventh win in eight career starts for trainer Brendan Walsh.

In another “Win and You’re In” race contested this year, Smooth Like Strait earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on May 31, taking the Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. 

“Win and You’re In” races to come

Next up among the “Win and You’re In” Classic races is the Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 17, followed by the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 7, the Juddmonte International Stakes (G1) at York in England on Aug. 18, the TVG Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar on Aug. 21, The Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga on Sept. 4 and the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 2.

Also in the US, there are six “Win and You’re In” races for the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. So far, Letruska has shown her dominance, winning the first two that have been held: the Ogden Phipps on June 5 at Belmont Park and the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 26.

Next up in the US for the BC Distaff are the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar on Aug. 1, the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 28, the Juddmonte Spinster (G1) at Keeneland on Oct. 3 and the Zenyatta Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 3.

International racing landscape

The European leg of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series got underway at Royal Ascot in June.

Heavy favorite Palace Pier won the Queen Anne Stakes (G1) on June 15 to grab a berth in the FanDuel Mile (G1); Love won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1) on June 16 to qualify for the Turf (G1), Perfect Power won the Norfolk Stakes (G2) on June 17 to advance into the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) and Dream of Dreams took the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1) on June 19 to qualify for the Turf Sprint (G1).

Three other prestigious Grade 1 European automatic qualifiers for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) are on the summer slate: the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes at Ascot on July 24, the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Sept. 11 and the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp on Oct. 3.

Canada will be represented by three Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races at Woodbine, led by the Ricoh Woodbine Mile on Sept. 18 for an invitation to the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile, and Natalma Stakes for an invitation to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and Summer Stakes with an invitation to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, both on Sept. 19.

‘Win and You’re In’ horses won five times last year

Last year, five Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series winners also won a World Championships race.

In Grade 1 races, they were Authentic ( Haskell Stakes), winner of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic; Tarnawa (IRE) (Prix de l’Opera Longines), winner of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf; Glass Slippers (GB) (Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes), winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint; and Essential Quality (Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity), winner of the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In Grade 2, Aunt Pearl (IRE) won the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes and then captured the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

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