Rice To Saddle Montauk Traffic In Gotham, Max Player In Wood Memorial - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Rice To Saddle Montauk Traffic In Gotham, Max Player In Wood Memorial

Montauk Traffic wins the Jimmy Winkfield

Chris Fountoukis' Montauk Traffic navigated the course with aplomb, rallying from last-of-seven to win Saturday's $100,000 Jimmy Winkfield for 3-year-olds by 1 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct.

The morning after the Cross Traffic sophomore colt notched his second consecutive win in three total starts and earned an 80 Beyer Speed Figure, trainer Linda Rice said everything was in good order as she looks to next run him in the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham on March 7 at the Big A.

“He came out of it very well and looks great today, so we will see if we can move on to the Gotham from here,” Rice said. “He's pretty inexperienced, but that's two races in a row now where he's come from off the [speed] and come through on the rail. He's going to gain more experience each time.”

That experience could help in the one-mile Gotham, a Grade 1 Kentucky Derby prep race offering 50-20-10-5 points qualifying points to the top-four finishers. After making all three of his starts at seven furlongs, Montauk Traffic would be taking a step up in class and distance as he continues his bid to make the “Run for the Roses.”

“I was really thrilled that he could go from a maiden win to winning the Winkfield. It's very exciting to consider that we could move on to the Gotham,” Rice said. “I'm sure it'll be a much tougher race and a bigger field, but hopefully he can continue to improve and graduate on to the next one.”

Rice also conditions another talented 3-year-old in George Hall's Max Player, who followed a runner-up debut as a juvenile on November 12 at Parx with a maiden-breaking 4 ¼-length score on December 17 at the same track. Making his stakes, 3-year-old, and Aqueduct debut, Max Player was up to the challenge, besting an eight-horse field in the Grade 3 Withers by 3 ¼ lengths at 1 1/8 miles on February 1 at Aqueduct.

The Honor Code colt's Withers' effort earned him an 86 Beyer and garnered 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Rice said after talking to his owner, the plan is to wait on the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 4, with 100-40-20-10 qualifying points available.

Entering Sunday, Max Player (10 points) was ranked 14th on the leaderboard for qualifying for the 146th Kentucky Derby. Rice said there is a possibility Max Player could look to add to that figure in the Gotham, but the preference for now is to not shorten him back up to a mile.

“He's doing great and right now we're sticking with our plan to point to the Wood Memorial,” Rice said. “We'll nominate him to the Gotham, but George Hall and I discussed it and at the moment, our plan is to point towards the Wood Memorial. We really don't want to shorten him to a one-turn mile right now. We have him going a mile and an eighth. He's lightly raced, and we just think the better plan will be to go right to the Wood.”

Max Players' stablemate, Prince of Pharoahs, ran sixth in the Withers. That effort followed a runner-up performance in the Jerome on New Year's Day at Aqueduct, marking his first stakes start after an impressive five-length win to break his maiden at second asking on October 13 at Belmont Park.

Rice said the son of 2015 Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah, owned by Darlene Bilinski and Harry Patten, does not have a firm target for his next start.

“He came out well and I'm not certain what we are going to do with him. We're on the fence,” Rice said.

Everything's Cricket Racing and Lawrence Goichman's Nicodemus started his 5-year-old campaign with a strong second, by a nose, to Mind Control in the Grade 3 Toboggan on January 18 at Aqueduct.

Looking to follow on a 4-year-old year in which he won the Grade 3 Westchester in May at Belmont, Rice said the son of Candy Ride will now target either the $125,000 Stymie on March 7 or the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool the same day. The Stymie is contested at one mile while the Tom Fool, a handicap, is run at six furlongs.

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