By Richard Rosenblatt
Just over a year ago, trainer Brendan Walsh returned to Dubai and looked on with pride as his promising 3-year-old Plus Que Parfait won the $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2) to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
A few months later, the Irishman gave a leg up to jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., on Plus Que Parfait and experienced his first Run for the Roses. His horse, sent off at 57-1, got as close as fifth with a quarter-mile to go, but faded to ninth and was elevated to eighth after first-place finisher Maximum Security was disqualified to 17th for interference.
Walsh, a former work rider for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin racing operation, was over the moon.
“I’m thrilled with him. I thought he ran his heart out,’’ Walsh said after the race. “I couldn’t ask for anything more. He had as good a trip as you’re probably going to get. He’s not beaten very far at all and went all the way to Dubai and came back and ran his race. For a second, (I) thought it could maybe happen and he gave me a thrill. He showed he could run with these horses.”
And Walsh, 10 years into his training career (he also was an assistant to Eddie Kenneally), showed he can keep up with the big boys on the Triple Crown trail. In 2017, he sent out Multiplier in the Preakness (sixth) and the Belmont Stakes (10th). And now, it looks like he’s dealing with a legitimate Derby contender (not to mention Belmont Stakes and Preakness) in Maxfield.
As a 2-year-old, Maxfield was 2-for-2 and gave Walsh his first Grade 1 victory by taking the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. The son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense was sidelined with an ankle injury, missed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), but made a triumphant return last Saturday in the $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs. And wouldn’t you know it, the colt is owned by Godolphin.
Maxfield is back, and with a restructured Triple Crown – Belmont (June 20), Derby (Sept. 5) and Preakness (Oct. 3) – he’s under consideration for an unprecedented run in the Classics.
“I have just been thinking all along to go one race at a time with this colt,” Walsh said a day after the Matt Winn. “We’ll talk it over with the Godolphin team and plan for our next target whatever that may be.”
With a total of 60 Derby-qualifying points, Maxfield has likely clinched a spot in the race, and moves up to No. 3 in the latest usracing.com/news Derby Top 10.
Nadal, winner of the second division of the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2, was injured during a Thursday morning workout at Santa Anita and retired (for now) after successful surgery to repair a left front leg injury (trainer Bob Baffert is now calling it the beginning of a condylar fracture.
Earlier in the week, reports surfaced that Charlatan tested positive for a banned substance that could disqualify him from a win in the first division of the Arkansas Derby. Charlatan, who could end up in the Woody Stephens Stakes on Belmont Day rather than the Belmont Stakes, is No. 3 but likely to drop in my next update.
After all that, New York-bred Tiz the Law returns to the No. 1 spot in my revised Top 10. The Florida Derby (G1) winner is the likely favorite for the 1 1/8-mile Belmont.
Authentic, another unbeaten Baffert trainee, is up to No. 2 as he preps for the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on June 6.
Note: I’m dropping Nadal off the Derby-qualifying points list (he was first with 150 points on the most recent leaderboard), and moving up the others by one spot.
Worked 5 furlongs in 59.75 at Palm Meadows on May 24, with Tagg saying he plans another workout in Florida on Sunday before heading back to New York … Florida Derby winner has four wins in five career starts … No. 2 on
points leaderboard (122) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 5-1.
Worked 6 furlongs in a 1:12 at Santa Anita on May 24 … Won San Felipe gate-to-wire and is 3-for-3 … No. 9 on points leaderboard (60) … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, June 6 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 10-1.
What a return after more than seven months between races! Won Matt Winn with a strong finish to improve to 3-0 … Earned 50 Derby-qualifying points with victory … Belmont Stakes could be next, but it Derby seems to be the ultimate goal in shuffled Triple Crown schedule … No. 8 on Derby points leaderboard (60) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 (possible) … Derby Future Wager Odds: 9-1.
Status up in the air as officials look at possible substance issue involving Arkansas Derby, which could cause a DQ and ruling that knocks unbeaten colt off Triple Crown trail … Garcia subbed for Drayden Van Dyke in Arkansas Derby, so rider remains unsettled … 3-for-3 by a combined 22 lengths … No. 3 on points leaderboard (100) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 (possible) … Derby Future Wager Odds: 5-1.
Worked 5 furlongs in 59.20 at Santa Anita on May 22 … Working well, but hard to say if he’ll still be worthy of top 10 status until watching his next race … Ran solid second to Authentic in San Felipe on March 7 in third career start … No. 23 on points leaderboard (20) … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, June 6 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 15-1.
A late Triple Crown nomination, son of Uncle Mo is owned by former baseball star Victor Martinez … A closer who was the long shot winner of the Tampa Bay Derby and runner-up to Nadal in Arkansas Derby … Passing on shortened Belmont (1 1/8 miles) with likely goal Kentucky Derby at 1 ¼
miles … No. 4 on points leaderboard (90) … Next start: TBD … Derby Future Wager Odds: 36-1.
Basin has given trainer cause for confidence after his distant second to Charlatan in Arkansas Derby … Had been third in the Rebel and fourth in the Oaklawn Stakes in previous two races … No. 10 on points leaderboard (50) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 56-1
Could be one of three Pletcher horses in the Belmont … Closed nicely to finish a neck behind runner-up Basin in Arkansas Derby won easily by Charlatan … 2-1-1 in five starts for Hall of Fame trainer and jockey and should like the shorter Belmont distance … No. 13 on points leaderboard (34) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 … Derby Future Odds: 31-1
Gray colt has yet to win a stakes race, but he’s coming close, finishing second in both the Louisiana Derby (to Wells Bayou) at 26-1 odds, and second in the Matt Winn (to Maxfield) at 3-1 odds. No. 7 on points leaderboard (70) … Next start: Blue Grass, Keeneland, July 11 (possible) … Derby Future Wager Odds: 71-1.
Back on the list despite a recent 4-furlong, 50.40-second work at Churchill Downs on May 17 (122nd of 135 at the same distance) … Son of Lookin’ At Lucky has a history of ‘slow’ works, but still owns a win in the Louisiana Derby prior to a disappointing fifth-place in the tougher division of the Arkansas Derby … Plus, both trainer and jockey are having terrific seasons despite all the obstacles due to the coronavirus pandemic … No. 2 on points leaderboard (104) … Next start: TBD … Derby Future Wager Odds: 28-1.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.