-By Dick Jerardi
When Maximus Mischief was getting ready to leave the Parx stable area at 5 a.m. Saturday, Ginny Reid sent a text with a video of the horse leaving Barn 4 and getting on a van, and then a photo of the horse safely in his spot on the van.
Just an hour and 45 minutes later, she sent another photo of Max in his Aqueduct stall, the first big race of his career just over eight hours away.
If you have been around horses for decades as Ginny and her husband, trainer Butch Reid, have been, you always hope a two-year-old with speed, talent and the right disposition will appear in your barn one day. Well, they knew almost from the moment they saw Maximus Mischief on the track, this was the one.
Saturday’s Grade II Remsen Stakes, however, was the “proving” race. Yes, Max had run really fast and won big in his two starts at Parx. This, however, would be his first time shipping, first time at a different track, first time around two turns, first time against better horses and first time at a mile and an eighth. To move into 2019 as a serious Kentucky Derby contender, Maximus Mischief would have to prove all of it in less than two minutes.
“So nervous,” Ginny texted a bit more than an hour before the race.
Well, the brilliant two-year-old, easily the best at Parx since Smarty Jones 15 years ago, proved all of it in the Remsen under a confident, calm ride from Parx Hall of Famer Frankie Pennington.
Max, as he has done in all his races, broke very sharply. Pennington let a no-chance longshot take the lead and then, when he felt a challenge from his outside by another longshot named Tax during the early part of the run down the backstretch, put Maximus on the lead.
Tax was still just outside Maximus on the far turn, ratcheting up the pressure. Pennington, however, waited. He knew what was under him. And when he asked Maximus Mischief at the top of the stretch, the big colt with the beautiful stride gained instant separation.
It was no longer a question of whether Max was going to win the Remsen, it was a question of how far he would win by. The answer was 2 1/4 lengths over a late-running Network Effect from the powerhouse Chad Brown barn. Tax tired late to finish third. The rest were nowhere.
Maximus Mischief had officially established himself as the best two-year-old in the east; somewhere on any top five list of 2019 Kentucky Derby prospects.
The horse was back in his stall that night. Butch Reid said he’ll give him four or five days to recover, train him for a few more days at Parx and then arrange a flight to South Florida where the horse will go to Gulfstream Park to gear up for a 2019 campaign.
The main goal is obviously the Derby. Reid suggested the March 30 Florida Derby as the final prep, with either the Feb. 2 Holy Bull or the March 2 Fountain of Youth as the race to get the horse to the Florida Derby. He is thinking just two races because the horse takes hard training so well.
“I thought his performance was very good,” Butch said. “The part that impressed me the most was how he acted in the paddock and on the way over there. Pre-race, he can be a handful. He’s a big, strong guy…I wasn’t sure how he would react, but he was a perfect gentleman the whole way, never got up on his hind legs, stood there perfectly to get the tack on.”
Reid was amazed when he had to send the valet back for another, bigger girth. Even though he had trained him very hard for the last month, Maximus, already quite a big horse, had actually put on weight.
“That’s just incredible to me,” Butch said. “He’s still expanding.”
The Aqueduct surface was very slow early in the card, but got faster later after some maintenance. So it is a bit difficult to put the final Remsen time of 1:51.34 in a proper context because of the changing conditions. Still, it computed to a 97 Beyer speed figure, showing that Maximus Mischief is fast sprinting or going long. Visually, it was equally impressive.
Owners Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett were naturally thrilled. It is one thing to have a good horse; it is quite another to have horse on the Derby path.
“He certainly showed a lot of heart,” Zacney said.
Zacney is not only a majority partner in Maximus; he is a partner in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk, who was also stabled at Parx with trainer John Servis before relocating to Florida after the Breeders’ Cup.
“I think I will be spending a lot of time in South Florida this January, February, March,” Zacney said.
And then if all goes right, he will be in Kentucky for the Oaks and Derby on the first Friday and first Saturday of May.
“It was awesome, being there with two of my three daughters and my dad and my mom,” Bennett said.
Now, they can all think of what might be on the horizon.
“That’s half the fun,” Bennett said. “It’s just the constant talking about it. Life is good at the moment.”