In five starts on turf this season, no horse has been able to head Silver Max. Whether that trend continues will be determined Saturday when the streaking three-year-old heads a field of nine in the Grade 2, $600,000 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs.
Scratched from last week's Grade 3 American Derby, which was won by fellow Dale Romans stablemate Cozzetti, Silver Max will face a stiffer challenge in the Virginia Derby. The 1 1/4-mile test is three-sixteenths of a mile farther than Silver Max has ever traveled, and the competition is more talented, too.
Arguably the nation's leading three-year-old turf performer, Silver Max has enjoyed a whirlwind spring and summer with wire-to-wire tallies in the Grade 3 Transylvania, Grade 2 American Turf, Arlington Classic and Oliver. The latter, a one-mile event at Indiana Downs, proved an explosive performance as the Dale Romans charge drew off to win by 6 3/4 lengths over Cozzetti while setting a course record of 1:33 4/5.
While Silver Max is unbeaten on turf this season, Summer Front in unbeaten on turf, period. The Christophe Clement-trained son of War Front pushed his grass record to four-for-four with a heart-thumping rally in the Grade 3 Hill Prince at Belmont on June 16, overcoming traffic and a lack of racing room to prevail by a half-length as the 6-5 favorite. With nowhere to go with just over a sixteenth remaining, Summer Front ultimately found the needed space and darted clear while under virtually no encouragement from Ramon Dominguez.
In addition to the Hill Prince, Summer Front also registered stakes wins last season in the King Cugat at Aqueduct and the Dania Beach at Gulfstream. His first two starts this term were on the main track -- a second in the Grade 3 Lexington on Keeneland's Polytrack and an unplaced effort in the Grade 2 Peter Pan on the Belmont dirt.
Lucky Chappy, a stakes winner in Italy and multiple Grade 3-placed in the U.S., makes his return to action Saturday after nearly four months on the sidelines. The Team Valor-owned colt was last seen in Dubai, in the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby, where he failed to muster a rally in a seventh-place finish.
Optimizer, a son of grass champion and 2005 Virginia Derby winner English Channel, should fare better on his return to turf. A debut winner on the Saratoga grass last summer, he later finished a close second in the Grade 3 With Anticipation. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas kept the colt on the main track for his next 10 starts, with a second in the Grade 2 Rebel being his best finish. He was unplaced in all three legs of the Triple Crown this spring.
The remainder of the field, all of whom figure to be big longshots, include the multiple stakes-placed Easy Crossing and Mr. Handsome, and Grade 3-placed Finnegans Wake.
The Grade 3, $150,000 Virginia Oaks at nine furlongs on the turf features a field of seven three-year-old fillies, four of whom are exiting maiden wins. Zultanite figures to be a strong favorite off recent placings in the Grade 3 Boiling Springs and Grade 2 Sands Point.
The Saturday program also features three other $50,000 grass stakes: the Chenery for two-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs; the Tippett for juvenile fillies at 5 1/2 furlongs; and the Kitten's Joy for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.