Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Post time favorite Silver Max set the pace and rolled to victory Saturday in the $200,000 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Silver Max, trained by Dale Romans, was sent off as the 13-10 favorite in the eight-horse field with jockey Robby Albarado again in the saddle.
Making his first start of the year, the 5-year-old broke sharply from the gate and took the lead in the one-mile turf event. He continued on the lead racing on the inside. The favorite repelled a challenge by Regally Ready on the final turn.
Silver Max maintained his advantage down the stretch even as the field tried to cut into his lead. The 5-year-old posted a 1 1/2-length win over Nikki's Sandcastle with 2012 race winner Guys Reward finishing third behind his stablemate.
"It was unbelievable. It was his first race back," Romans noted, "and when that horse (Regally Ready) ran up to him on the turn I was thinking that maybe if I didn't have him tight enough that the horse might get by him. But he's just class and with these class athletes you can't mess 'em up. I just need to stay out of his way and he'll get the job done for me."
Completing the order of finish were Villandry, Free World, Valentino Beauty, Regally Ready and Joha.
The time for the Firecracker on a firm turf course was 1:34.21.
"That's very fast under today's conditions," Albarado said on the final time. "He was cruising along there pretty good and had his ears forward the whole way so I knew he was content with his cruising mode. He's got such a high cruising speed and that's his asset."
Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, winner of the 2011 and 2013 renewals, is recuperating at Keeneland but should be ready to race at Saratoga this summer.
Owned by Mark Bacon and Dana Wells, Silver Max picked up $135,195. The 5-year- old has won 12 of 24 lifetime starts for $1,913,598.
Off since finishing fourth to Wise Dan in last November's Breeders' Cup Mile, Silver Max had won three straight going into the Mile, including a 1 1/4- length win over the champion in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last Oct. 5.
Silver Max also won the Opening Verse at Churchill in 2013 along with the Oceanport and Bernard Baruch. He was third on the main track in the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows last June 29.
Silver Max paid $4.60, $4.00 and $2.80. Nikki's Sandcastle returned $5.80 and $3.40, and Guys Reward paid 4.00 to show.