The Road To The Derby

Maximus Ruler to pursue Fair Grounds' Road to the Derby

Three-year-old MAXIMUS RULER (Roman Ruler), the dark bay colt who broke his maiden in a two-turn allowance race at Churchill Downs on November 28, is probable for the upcoming Lecomte S. (G3) on January 23, trainer Clark Hanna confirmed Saturday.

The Lecomte, which carries a $100,000 purse, is the first leg of Fair Grounds' sophomore series that concludes with the 97th running of the Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 27. This spring's Louisiana Derby will become the richest race ever run in Louisiana with its increased purse of $750,000.

"He'll be in (the Lecomte) and if all goes well we plan on running in all three," Hanna said, referring to Fair Grounds' Road to the Derby series encompassing the Lecomte, the $300,000 Risen Star S. (G2) on February 20 and the Louisiana Derby.

Maximus Ruler debuted at Churchill Downs in a six-furlong maiden special weight on November 14, finishing third by a head despite a dreadful trip at 52-1.

"I would have been a rich man if he had won," Hanna quipped.

Two weeks later Maximus Ruler came back in the only spot he could get in before the end of the Churchill meeting, a first-level allowance at one mile.

"He was ready to run back when I wanted him to run back," Hanna explained. "I knew I wasn't going to get in the maiden race because of the way the date system worked there. It was the only spot I could go in other than the stake."

Maximus Ruler, with Francisco Torres up, split horses en route to a surprisingly easy one-length win.

"Cisco said the last part of it he was just kind of sitting on him, not using him, and that was coming back on a two-week turnaround," Hanna said.

Owner Don Benge has reportedly turned down several significant offers for Maximus Ruler in favor of chasing the Kentucky Derby (G1) dream. It is a dream that Hanna, for one, seems to think is worth pursuing. The trainer is confident that added distance will not be an issue for his prize colt, and he believes there is more improvement to come.

"If you watch his replays he's still learning how to run," Hanna said. "Over the past 30 days he's starting to drop his head. We changed equipment on him just to train with and I think that helped, and then for the breeze I switched back to what he raced in and he seemed to drop his head."

Maximus Ruler has worked twice since arriving at Fair Grounds, including the most recent breeze on January 2, which Hanna stated was a five-furlong move in :59 2/5 although a stout gallop-out compelled clockers to officially list it as six furlongs in 1:13 3/5. Hanna described the effort as a "walk in the park."

Hanna was impressed by Maximus Ruler when he first came up for bids at the 2008 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The colt failed to meet his $20,000 reserve for breeders Hargus and Sandra Sexton, who have horses with Hanna.

"He came right after a sale-topper and he didn't bring very much money," Hanna remembered. "Mr. Sexton didn't want to let him go for that cheap so I asked him what he wanted for him. He told me and I said, 'Sold.' You could tell he was a big, bulky colt and you could see he had a lot of filling out to do."

Maximus Ruler is scheduled to breeze Monday after the 8-8:30 a.m. (CST) renovation break, weather permitting. If Monday's work is postponed, he'll go Wednesday and then again January 18). Most days, Maximus Ruler can be seen on the track late in the morning, shortly before training hours end at 10 a.m.

As good as he's been doing lately, Hanna was tempted to try Maximus Ruler in last Sunday's first-level allowance race, which he would have been eligible for despite having won an allowance, being a non-winner of two races lifetime.

"I thought it was too much to ask coming back in three weeks for (the Lecomte)," Hanna said. "I didn't want to do that to him because it's a long run home for what I'm trying to accomplish."

Derby Trial picks up LaPenta sponsorship

Prominent Thoroughbred owner and breeder Robert LaPenta will honor one his most accomplished horses and boost the significance of the final major prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1) after reaching an agreement with Churchill Downs to sponsor this year's 86th running of the $200,000 The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial (G3).

The 2010 renewal of the race, which was restored to Grade 3 status in 2009 by the American Graded Stakes Committee, will carry a purse of $200,000, doubling the purse offered a year ago, and will return to its previous distance of one mile. It was run at 7 1/2 furlongs from 2007-09. The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial, named in honor of LaPenta's Grade 1-winning The Cliff's Edge, is scheduled for April 24, opening day of the 42-day spring meet and one week before the Kentucky Derby. It is the final graded prep race before the famed "Run for the Roses" on May 1.

The major increase in the purse for the Derby Trial will undoubtedly make the race more attractive to some owners and trainers who hope to land a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters with preference to horses who have compiled the highest total earnings in graded stakes races.

"Our sponsorship of The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial is very exciting in that it allows our racing operation to contribute to the success and allure of a race that has a wonderful tradition as a Kentucky Derby prep as we honor one of our more successful horses, The Cliff's Edge, and provide a boost to his ongoing career as a stallion," LaPenta said. "Despite an unlucky run in the 2004 Kentucky Derby, The Cliff's Edge enjoyed the finest moments of his racing career at Churchill Downs and in the state of Kentucky. We look forward to seeing his name and legacy being an important part of the week leading up to the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby and the possibility that a major contender for this year's Derby could emerge with a big effort in this final important prep."

The Cliff's Edge, who continues a breeding career as a member of the stallion roster at Margaux Farm near Midway, Kentucky, compiled a record of 4-5-2 in 13 career starts with earnings of $1,265,258. Trained for LaPenta by two-time Kentucky Derby-winner Nick Zito, the dark bay won the 2004 Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland and swept Churchill Downs' 2003 fall meet stakes races for two-year-olds, the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and Iroquois (G3). The Cliff's Edge was the morning-line favorite for the 2004 Kentucky Derby, but finished fifth to Smarty Jones following an eventful run over a sloppy track during which he lost both front shoes and suffered a bruised foot.

"We thank Robert LaPenta for his enthusiastic support of Churchill Downs racing and the Kentucky Derby," said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. "His sponsorship of The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial will significantly enhance the attractiveness and prestige of this historic final prep for America's Greatest Race. Graded earnings are an increasingly important factor as the field for the Kentucky Derby takes shape in the days before the race and we expect that Mr. LaPenta's efforts, along with the boost in purse and adjustment in distance, will serve to make the 2010 renewal of The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial one of its most notable in years."

The one-mile Derby Trial has served as the final prep for an impressive group of 13 Kentucky Derby winners through the decades. The race was first run in 1924 and that inaugural running was won by Black Gold, who returned to win the Derby. Others who swept both races include Triple Crown winner Citation (1948), Hill Gail (1952), Dark Star (1953) and Tim Tam (1958).

Horses that failed to win the Derby Trial but won the Kentucky Derby include Triple Crown winners Whirlaway (1941) and Assault (1946), Lawrin (1938), Gallahadion (1940), Ponder (1949), Middleground (1950), Determine (1954) and Iron Liege (1957). Assault and Iron Liege finished off-the-board in their respective runnings of the Trial, while the others were runners-up in their renewals.

The most recent Derby Trial winner to play a significant role in the Kentucky Derby was B. Wayne Hughes' Don't Get Mad, who finished fourth to Giacomo in the 2005 Derby.

Other notables to win the Derby Trial through the years include Ack Ack, Caveat, Key to the Mint, Hill Rise, Crozier, Federal Hill, Housebuster, Cherokee Run and Richter Scale. Recent Trial winners include the then unbeaten Hull (Holy Bull), who defeated eventual Jim Dandy (G2) and Dwyer (G2) winner Kensei (Mr. Greeley) to take the 2009 renewal, and 2008 winner Macho Again (Macho Uno), who later finished second in the Preakness (G1) and won the 2009 running of the Stephen Foster H. (G1).



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