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Brisnet Handicappers Edge Fair Grounds notes 1/11/10

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."

On the Louisiana worktab

Grade 3-placed stakes winner WARRIOR MAID (Holy Bull), unraced since running third in the Susan's Girl S. in June, breezed three furlongs in :37 over Fair Grounds' fast dirt on Sunday.

Multiple stakes-placed NORTHERN BELLE (Northern Afleet), a 3 3/4-length allowance/optional claiming victress two back, covered a half-mile in :49 3/5.

Heiligbrodt Racing Stable's HALLWAY (Graeme Hall) benefited from a switch in surfaces to land Saturday's $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace S. by a nose over 1-2 favorite Desert Wheat (Wheaton) at Fair Grounds. This initial added-money triumph was long overdue for the six-year-old Louisiana-bred, who had run second or third in 10 previous stakes attempts. Among these were third-place efforts in the last two editions of the Dixie Poker Ace, the 2008 version on turf and the 2009 renewal which was also switched to the main track. On Saturday, Shaun Bridgmohan guided the Steve Asmussen charge to victory in a time of 1:39 4/5 for a mile and 40 yards over the fast main track. His record now stands at 28-5-10-3, $327,617...

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