By Richard Rosenblatt
Here we go Maxfield!
In his first start in more than seven months, Maxfield made a wide move around the final turn and overtook the leaders in deep stretch to win the $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
The 3-year-old son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is now undefeated in three starts. He was sidelined with an ankle injury that kept him out of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
Trained by Brendan Walsh, the Godolphin-owned colt was sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the 1 1-16-mile Derby qualifier, and earned 50 points to move into the top 10 on the Derby leaderboard with 60 points.
Runner-up Ny Traffic (also runner-up in the Louisiana Derby) earned 20 Derby qualifying points and now totals 70 points.
“We were really anxious to see this one,” Walsh said. “It wasn’t an easy spot either. I think the top four horses are all really nice horses. It’s nice to get this one out of the way. It’s good to see him come back and see he’s as good if not better than when he was a two-year-old.”
The next question is whether Maxfield is headed to the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 20, which this year is the first leg of the Triple Crown and also serves as a Derby-points qualifier.
The Kentucky Derby (G1), traditionally the first leg of the Triple Crown run on the first Saturday in May, was rescheduled to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Preakness (G1) was canceled from May 16 and will be the final Triple Crown race on Oct. 3.
Maxfield, ridden by Jose Ortiz, was considered among the top 2-year-olds after breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs and then winning the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland last October by overcoming slow starts.
The Matt Winn is the first Derby-points qualifier since the split divisions of the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2. If Maxfield ends up in the shortened 1 1 1/8-mile Belmont, opponents are likely to include trainer Bob Baffert’s Nadal and Charlatan, winners of each division of the Arkansas Derby, as well as Florida Derby (G1) winner Tiz the Law.
Maxfield , the 3-10 favorite in the field 10, was bumped slightly at the start and raced in eighth place but within three lengths of the leaders, Celtic Striker and then Pneumatic. He rallied in the stretch between horses, took the lead and won by a length. The winning time was 1:43.05.
“The start is a key part of the race,” Ortiz said. “Last time I worked him out of the gate at Keeneland he worked better. He’s really matured a lot. If you can keep breaking like he did today and be in a spot like he did, he’s going to be a really nice horse.”
Ortiz added: “He came off the layoff today going 1 1/16 miles and Brendan did a really good job to get him fit so I don’t see a mile-and-a-quarter being a problem at all.”
Pneumatic was third, followed by Attachment Rate, Necker Island, Celtic Striker, Shake Some Action, Informative, Flap Jack and Major Fed. Mystic Guide and Crypto Cash were scratched.
Sharing ($6.60) made her 3-year-old debut a winning one by taking the lead in the stretch and holding off Abscond by a half-length in the $100,000 Tepin at a mile on turf.
The filly, winning her fourth race in a row in five career starts, was ridden by Manny Franco for trainer Graham Motion. Alms, the favorite, stayed in contention but flattened out in the stretch and finished fifth in the 13-horse field.
Dunbar Road ($3.40) started wide and came on strong in the stretch under Jose Ortiz and won the $100,000 Shawnee Stakes for fillies and mares 4 and older by 1 ¾ lengths over Chocolate Kisses.
Trained by Chad Brown, Dunbar Road made her first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) last November. Winner of the Alabama (G1) last summer, the filly has career record of five wins, a second and a third in eight starts.
Owendale ($9), winner of three Grade 3 races a year ago, ran down the leaders with a well-timed stretch run under and won the $100,000 Blame by a half-length over Everfast. Owendale, trained by Brad Cox, was ridden by Florent Geroux and improved his career record to 6-2-2 in 15 career starts and topped $1 million in earnings for Rupp Racing. Global campaign, the 2-1 favorite, was sixth.
Keeneland has submitted a request to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s Race Dates Committee for a five-day summer meet, from Jul 8-12. Under current safety protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, the meet will be run without spectators. The 16-ay spring meet was canceled.
Ten graded stakes usually run during the track’s spring meet are scheduled, including the $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G2) and the $400,000 Ashland (G1), preps for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), respectively. Other races on the schedule include the $350,000 Jenny Wiley (G1), the $300,000 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) and the $250,000 Madison (G1).
“We are excited about the return of racing to Keeneland and know this will be welcome news for our horsemen, fans and the Central Kentucky community,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said Friday in a statement.
“This purse money represents significant income for horsemen, and while the races will be spectator-free, the Keeneland team is hard at work on creative ways to involve fans watching at home and to enhance our simulcast product for handicappers.”
For two weeks, Churchill Downs had just about every top jockey in the country. But with Belmont Park opening June 3, that’s about to change.
Among those headed home to New York are Hall of Famers Javier Castellano and John Velazquez, as well as Jose Ortiz and Joel Rosario.
“I really enjoy riding at Churchill Downs but New York is home for my family and me,” Castellano said. “I’m thankful Churchill was able to open early and let us ride here.”
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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.