RICHMOND — Though more than half of the American graded stakes turf races for 3-year-old thoroughbreds this year have yet to be contested, Silver Max and Summer Front already have established themselves as horses with sizable reputations in pressure-packed settings.
Despite impressive resumes on turf, they've never met in the same race. That'll change Saturday night when they lead a field of nine horses at Colonial Downs in the 15th running of the Virginia Derby, a Grade II turf race with a $600,000 purse.
"They look like the favorites — no doubt," said Colonial Downs director of racing Tyler Picklesimer. "They're on a roll, but it's horse racing. Anything can happen on any day."
Silver Max has won the last five races — all on turf — he's entered, including the Grade III Transylvania Stakes in April, the Grade II American Turf in May, the $125,000 Arlington Classic in May and the $210,000 Oliver Stakes last month.
Silver Max was slated to run last week in the Grade III American Derby at Arlington Park in Illinois, but he was scratched and instead aimed for the Virginia Derby, which is set for an 8:58 p.m. post time on Saturday's 14-race card.
As dominant as Kentucky-bred colt Silver Max has been, Summer Front's entire body of work on turf has been just as authoritative. He's never lost on turf, going 4 for 4, including a win last month as a 6-5 favorite in the Grade III Hill Prince Stakes — his only start this year on turf.
In addition to Silver Max and Summer Front, the field in the 1 1/4-mile race will include Optimizer, who participated in all three Triple Crown races this year and is trained by U.S. Racing Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
Optimizer, who will be making just the third turf start of his career and his first turf start this year, will be Lukas' firstentry in the Virginia Derby, which will be the 16th of 37 American graded stakes turf races this year for 3 year olds. Optimizer failed to finish better than sixth in any of the Triple Crown races, but his only career win in 12 starts came last summer in an ungraded outing on the turf at Saratoga.
Optimizer will break from the far inside rail, while fellow Kentucky-bred colt Summer Front and Silver Max will go from the fifth and seventh spots, respectively, in the gate.
Silver Max is trained by Dale Romans, who also will start Kentucky-bred colt Finnegans Wake from the No. 2 post position. Romans trained 2010 Virginia Derby winner Paddy O'Prado, who was owned by the Donegal Racing, the same group that owns Finnegans Wake.
Two Months Rent, a Kentucky-bred gelding trained by James Toner, will go from the No. 3 hole. Coach Royal, a Kentucky-bred colt trained by J.P. Terranova, will start from the No. 4 slot. Easy Crossing will open up in the No. 6 spot in gate. He's trained by Christophe Clement, who also grooms Summer Front.
On the outside along with Silver Max, Graham Motion-trained Irish-bred Lucky Chappy will be in the No. 8 slot, and Kentucky-bred colt Mr. Handsome will take off from the No. 9 spot.
Lucky Chappy won a stakes race last July in Italy before finishing third in October in the Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, and second in February in the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
As has become customary with its large purse in play, the Virginia Derby will draw an elite field of jockeys. Former Eclipse Award winners Kent Desormeaux (Finnegans Wake), Ramon Dominguez (Summer Front) and Julien Leparoux (Easy Crossing) are slated to appear in the race.
In addition to Desormeaux and Leparoux, other winning jockeys of Triple Crown races that likely will participate include Robbie Albarado (Silver Max) and Alan Garcia (Lucky Chappy).
Sheldon Russell, the defending thoroughbred meet jockey champion at Colonial Downs, is scheduled to be atop Mr. Handsome. Horacio Karamanos, a four-time Colonial Downs thoroughbred meet jockey titlist who rode 37-1 longshot Red Giant to a Virginia Derby win in 2007, will be on Optimizer this weekend.
15th Virginia Derby
When: Saturday, 8:48 p.m. post time
Where: Colonial Downs, New Kent (Secretariat Race Course - 1 1/4 mile race)
PP Horse Jockey Trainer
1 Optimizer Horacio Karamanos D. Wayne Lukas
2 Finnegans Wake Kent Desormeaux Dale Romans
3 Two Months Rent Julian Pimentel James Toner
4 Coach Royal Joe Rocco J.P. Terranova
5 Summer Front Ramon Dominguez Christophe Clement
6 Easy Crossing Julien Leparoux Christophe Clement
7 Silver Max Robbie Albarado Dale Romans
8 Lucky Chappy Alan Garcia Graham Motion
9 Mr. Handsome Sheldon Russell Timothy TullockCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times