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Maximus Ruler Readies for Grade III Lecomte Jan. 23

Don Benge’s Maximus Ruler, the 3-year-old Roman Ruler colt that broke his maiden in a two-turn allowance race at Churchill Downs Nov. 28, is probable for the upcoming Grade III Lecomte Stakes Jan. 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 Grade II Louisiana Derby March 27, and 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 Grade II $300,000 Risen Star Stakes Feb. 20 and the Grade II $750,000 Louisiana Derby on the last Saturday in March.

Maximus Ruler debuted at Churchill Downs in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Nov. 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 said.

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 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 Jan. 2, which Hanna stated was a five-furlong move in 59.40 although a stout gallop-out compelled clockers to officially list it as six furlongs in 1:13.60. 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. renovation break, weather permitting. If Monday’s work is postponed, he’ll go Wednesday and then again the following Tuesday (Jan. 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 stake (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.”

Apprentice Anthony Groth Wins First Fair Grounds Race Saturday in Local Bow
Fair Grounds-based trainer Mike Stidham gave apprentice jockey Anthony Groth his first local opportunity in Saturday’s opener, and the 22-year-old responded by piloting Phillip Maas’ Whenthedealinsdone to a 6 1/2-length score.

“I used this jockey at Delaware Park a lot last summer,” said Stidham. “He’s a good little rider and he came to Hawthorne for us later in the fall after Delaware closed. He’ll ride some down here until Hawthorne re-opens and then he’ll go back to Chicago.”

Groth reiterated the influence Stidham has had on his fledgling career.

“I broke (Whenthedealisdone)’s maiden at Delaware (by nine lengths Oct. 17),” Groth explained. “I was riding there, and then I went to Maryland, and then back up to Chicago. When Chicago ended I came down here to gallop for Mr. Stidham so he helped me out.

“I never touched a horse until I was 18,” Groth said. “One day I was getting my hair cut in the barber shop and this trainer’s friend walked in. He gave me the phone number to Bonita Farm out in Maryland, and the next day I dropped out of the local community college to start hotwalking and grooming. That was in Bel Air, Maryland, where I grew up.

“I was 18 then and I’m 22 now (born May 27, 1987). I’ve been traveling around. I got to gallop for (Hall of Fame trainer) Bill Mott for a year in Florida and Saratoga, and then I went to Keeneland with Ronny Werner and galloped down here for Werner last year.”