By Way of Philly, Maximus Mischief One to Watch on Derby Trail

Maximus Mischief | Equi-Photo


It's a blue-collar racetrack where tough horses grind away for good purses, their owners and trainers normally content to let the people in places like Saratoga, Arcadia and Lexington have all the glory that comes with owning a star. But at Parx, every once in a while there is an outlier, a horse fast enough to be successful at the highest level. No one proved that better than Smarty Jones, the winner off the 2004 GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. At Parx, Smarty Jones has all but been placed in a pantheon, but he may soon have some company.

It is obviously way to early get started on the Hall of Fame plaque for the Parx-based 2-year-old named Maximus Mischief (Into Mischief), but he has been so dominant and run so fast in his first two career starts that there's every reason to believe the 'TDN Rising Star' is going to prove to be one of the best 3-year-olds in the country next year.

“Suffice to say we're extremely excited to have a young horse here who obviously has ability on a national scale.” said Parx's announcer Keith Jones, who also called the debut of Smarty Jones. “We're cautiously optimistic that maybe lightning does strike twice. What he has displayed already in the first two races makes me think he's as good a 2-year-old as we've seen around here since Smarty Jones. I know a lot can go wrong between now and the first Saturday in May, but he certainly looks the part. I don't think there's any question about that.”

Considering his sire and what he cost at the sales, Maximus Mischief didn't exactly sneak up on anyone. Maximus Mischief went for $340,000 at this year's Fasig Tipton Midatlantic 2-Year-Old Sale at Timonium. Primary owner Chuck Zacney turned the horse over to top Parx trainer Butch Reid and gave him instructions to take things slowly with the colt.

He did not debut until Sept. 20, winning a Parx maiden race by 8 3/4 lengths with Frankie Pennington aboard.

“You have to listen to the horse a and he'll tell you where and when he's ready to run, and we have really taken our time with him,” said Zacney, best known as the owner of the Delaware Park-based Afleet Alex, winner of the Preakness and GI Belmont S. in 2005. “He really has been special from day one and worked that way. But there was no sense of urgency. I think maybe I've gotten a little smarter over the years. I want to have a really good 3-year-old and that's more important than having a good 2-year-old. Our goal, really, is the races next year and not the races this year.”

Zacney said he fielded numerous phone calls from agents after Maximus Mischief's debut looking to purchase all of the horse or a percentage of him. He said the largest offer was for $750,000, but he told that person and everyone else that called that his horse was not for sale.

After that impressive of a debut, many horses would have gone right into stakes company, but Zacney and Reid instead opted for an allowance race last Saturday at Parx. Though, after scratches, there were only three horses in the race, Maximus Mischief did more than enough to enhance his reputation. He won the seven-furlong race by six lengths and was awarded a Beyer Speed Figure of 98, the highest number run by any 2-year-old so far this year.

“This has been terrific,” Zacney said. “You always dream of having a horse like this. Afleet Alex was in 2004, 2005 and here it is 13, 14 years later. I've learned since then how difficult it is to get a special horse. Now that we're going in the right direction, I decided I'm going to enjoy every moment.”

Zacney and Reid both know that the time has come to give Maximus Mischief a real test, and they have picked out the GII Remsen S. at Aqueduct Dec. 1 to do so. Reid doesn't think the jump from seven to nine furlongs will be any problem for his horse.

“The best thing about him is his head,” Reid said. “The talent is all there and physically it's all there. He's a big strong horse. What I like about him best is he has a great head on his shoulders. That's why I don't think any distance will be too much for him. He will relax. Frankie [Pennington] really had him relaxed on a long hold the other day and when he turns for home he responds. He does it in the morning and he does it in the afternoon. He knows where the real running starts. That's the attribute I like best about him.”

Should Maximus Mischief prove up to the challenge in the Remsen, the plan will be to take him to Florida and take the Gulfstream route to the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

Reid is as consistent a trainer as there is at Parx and his barn tends to have better horses than the average stable at the Bensalem, Pennsylvania, track, but this could turn out to be his first chance with a serious Kentucky Derby candidate. To date, his biggest wins have come in the 2012 GI Alfred Vanderbilt H. with Poseidon's Warrior (Speightstown) and with Afleet Again (Afleet Alex) in the GII Breeders' Cup Marathon in 2011.

He says he's ready for the challenge, even if that includes the inevitable comparisons to Smarty Jones.

“Talking to people at the track about him and with how impressive this horse has been, yes, you hear comparisons to Smarty Jones,” Reid said. “It does put a little extra pressure on you, but the horse, he doesn't hear any of that. and he's the important one. The pressure for me is just having a good healthy horse. That's what I think about every day. It's very flattering for him to be compared to a horse like Smarty, but he's going to have to earn that and hasn't done so yet.”

When Smarty Jones did what he did in 2004, it was hard to imagine another horse coming out of what was then known as Philadelphia Park ever again winning Triple Crown races. It still is. In Maximus Mischief, all we have is a horse who won a maiden and a three-horse allowance race. That and a world of potential.


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