After a sixteen-month layoff, Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) has found his stride at Mahoning Valley Race Course. He cleared N2L second off that layoff going in $5,000 claiming company, and went to the barn of Joseph Poole. After a sixth-place finish at six furlongs against straight N3L allowance company, he dropped back to $5,000 N3L on January 12, stretched back , winning by open lengths while setting a new track record.
Mahoning Valley has a series of starter allowances they call the Half Moon Starter Series, for route horses who have started for a price of $5,000 or less. (There is also a Full Moon Starter Series, with the same conditions, for the sprinting set.) Today’s race covered a mile and an eighth. The next race in the series, marked in the condition book for February 25, spans a mile and a quarter.
Solar Maximus entered today’s 1 1/8 mile race in the series. The class level, a bridge between claiming and allowance company, seemed realistic. The distance was a sixteenth of a mile longer than he had ever gone, but he is by Curlin out of a Pleasant Colony mare. That screams distance. He is half to Soul Search (A. P. Indy), who won at distances as long at 1 3/16 miles and was Grade I placed at both 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles on dirt. He is half to Reform Act (Lemon Drop Kid), a graded stakes placed turf marathoner. His pedigree suggests that longer may be better, and this looked like the perfect opportunity to test that theory.
Despite his excellent distance breeding, the public sent Solar Maximus off as the 7.5/1 third choice in the field of nine. They sent Ghostwalking off the 7/10 favourite, likely on the strength of his recent success at similar starter levels at Mountaineer and Thistledown.
Solar Maximus broke from the 6 gate, and tracked from a few lengths back early. He was outside, but not too far. The pack was strung out: Just a Minute and Ghostwalker took the front, but the field evenly covered about nine lengths. Down the backstretch, Solar Maximus started to gain ground on the leaders. By the time the field approached the far turn Just a Minute had begun to fade, but both Practical Justice and Solar Maximus were getting their runs on the odds-on favourite. About midway through the far turn, Practical Justice began to wilt as well. Midway through the far turn, a duel ensued between Solar Maximus and Ghostwalking.
As far along as the furlong pole, they were head and head, both hard-ridden, both being implored to fly to the wire. Approaching the sixteenth pole…the favourite finally gave way. Almost instantaneously, Solar Maximus opened up half a length, a length, more. He crossed the wire two and a half lengths clear of the late-running Freud’s Vale, who nailed Ghostwalker for second just at the wire.
To put a cherry on top, Solar Maximus now owns two track records at Mahoning Valley Race Course: the one-mile record that he set last out, and now the record for a mile and an eighth. Of course, the sample size is not the biggest, particularly at a mile and an eighth. Still, it shows at the very least that he likes the track: he is running faster than most there, and he is three-for-four over it. Quite possibly more telling, he is three-for-three at two turns: his only loss was at six furlongs, a distance at which he has never won, and a distance to which his pedigree looks less than suited.
The move to the longer starter allowance race was a successful one. He showed he fit in that level of competition, and that he could handle the distance as well as his breeding suggested he might. Hopefully this is a prep for the next race in the Half Moon Starter Series, and we’ll see him trying a mile and a quarter on February 25th.