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Silver Max wires American Turf

AMERICAN TURF STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16 MILES (TURF)

Fresh off a dominating, wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland, Mark Bacon and Dana Wells' Silver Max dished out the same treatment to his rivals in Friday's Grade 2, $238,200 American Turf at Churchill Downs. The biggest difference was the winning rider. With Robby Albarado off his mounts after reportedly being arrested Friday morning for domestic violence, Rafael Bejarano picked up the mount and gave him a textbook ride.

The turn of events was a pale echo of Oaks Day one year ago, when Albarado was off mounts due to a freak accident in a post parade earlier that week, and was then taken off Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby. John Velazquez famously stepped in to ride the Derby winner. Silver Max wasn't Animal Kingdom, the American Turf wasn't the Derby, and the reasons were entirely different, but Bejarano ably played the Velazquez role this time.

As if that wasn't enough drama, the American Turf was delayed approximately 45 minutes because of severe weather barreling toward the Louisville, Kentucky, metro area. Infield spectators were told to clear out and take cover indoors, as the track braced for a thunderstorm cell with maximum wind gusts of 60 miles per hour, dangerous lightning and even hail. Thankfully, the worst part of the storm passed to the south, and Oaks Day was back in business with adjusted post times.

Silver Max's primary obstacle to another front-running success appeared to be Howe Great, a fellow pace factor who drew one spot to the outside of him in post 14. On paper, both figured to blast away, clear the field, angle over, and possibly ratchet up the tempo in the process. But when Howe Great veered right out of the gate, and Velazquez had to go to Plan B and regroup off the pace, Silver Max had a gift set-up on the front end.

Easily grabbing sole command, Silver Max rattled off fractions of :23, :46 3/5 and 1:10 3/5 on the turf course that was still rated firm. The Dale Romans trainee was always traveling like a winner as he turned into the stretch and opened up a comfortable lead. Silver Max crossed the wire with 2 3/4 lengths to spare in a final time of 1:41 for 1 1/16 miles, and the 5-1 third choice paid $12.40, $7 and $5.

The stretch run turned eventful far behind the leader, as Star Channel swerved right and left and unseated jockey Javier Castellano. Horse and rider were both apparently OK, and Castellano was cleared by medical staff to ride Grace Hall in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, the very next race. The stewards conducted an inquiry into the incident but saw no need to make any changes to the official order of finish.

Travel Advisory, who was second to Silver Max in the Transylvania, again took best-of-the-rest here. Howe Great rallied for third, three-quarters of a length behind Travel Advisory. Finnegans Wake, the winner's stablemate from the Romans barn, checked in fourth. Look at the Time, Coalport, Gung Ho, Tones, Blueskiesnrainbows, Scatman, the hitherto unbeaten Flashy Dresser and Silver Menace completed the order of those who finished the race. Skyring was withdrawn, along with the also-eligible Scorcher.

Silver Max's second straight graded score upped his line to 10-4-5-0, $306,821. The bay finished second in his first five starts, finally breaking through at Gulfstream Park on January 13. Making a rare try on the main track for the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, he faded to a well-beaten fifth, but rebounded back on the Gulfstream turf on March 9.

Bred by Steve C. Snowden, Seth Lauffer and Will Lauffer in Kentucky, Silver Max brought $20,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling. The Badge of Silver colt is out of the winning Kissin Kris mare Kissin Rene, making him a half-brother to stakes scorer True Kiss.

Kissin Rene is herself a three-quarter sister to Canadian champion and millionaire Kiss a Native. She is also a half-sister to Grade 3 victor Prince of the Mt. and to Clever Monique, the dam of Grade 1-winning millionaire and sire Yes It's True.

Silver Max's second dam is Monique Rene, a 15-time stakes heroine in Louisiana in the early 1980s.

Silver Max is inbred 4x4 to Epsom Derby star, English/Irish champion and influential sire Roberto.