As two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan continues to recover from surgery, highly regarded Silver Max will make his 2014 debut Saturday in the $200,000 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Wise Dan, winner of the 2011 and 2013 Firecracker, is recuperating at Keeneland but should be ready to race at Saratoga this summer.
Silver Max, trained by Dale Romans, has drawn post 5 in the eight-horse field for the mile turf race. Owned by Mark Bacon and Dana Wells, the 5-year-old will be reunited with jockey Robby Albarado.
Off since finishing fourth to Wise Dan in last November's Breeders' Cup Mile, Silver Max had won three straight going into the Mile, including a 1 1/4- length win over the champion in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last Oct. 5.
"He's doing super," Romans said. "He just needed some rest, so he's fresh now and ready to roll."
Silver Max also won the Opening Verse at Churchill in 2013 along with the Oceanport and Bernard Baruch. He has banked $1,778,403 with 11 wins in 23 lifetime starts.
Romans will also start Guys Reward in the Firecracker. Owned by Michael Bruder, the 7-year-old will be ridden by Jesus Castanon from the inside post.
Guys Reward is a veteran of 44 career starts with eight wins, five seconds and 10 thirds for $665,903. He won the Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 1 and has five wins in 14 lifetime starts at Churchill.
Charlie LoPresti, trainer of Wise Dan, will saddle Villandry for owner Gainesway Stable. Villandry has post 6 with Julien Leparoux in the saddle.
The 5-year-old gelding was second in the Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill four weeks ago with Leparoux riding. He has four wins in 13 career starts for $154,339.
Here is the field for the Firecracker in post position order: Guys Reward, Jesus Castanon; Free World, Corey Lanerie; Valentino Beauty, Brian Hernandez Jr.; Nikki's Sandcastle, Leandro Goncalves; Silver Max, Robby Albarado; Villandry, Julien Leparoux; Joha, Joe Rocco Jr. and Regally Ready, Shaun Bridgmohan. All will carry 121 pounds.
Post time for the Firecracker will be approximately 4:18 p.m. ET.