Maxfield could benefit most from delayed KY Derby
'This puts us in a better spot to prepare him properly,' Walsh says
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By Gary West, Thoroughbred News Service
It was the kind of performance that leaves a racing fan just standing there, slack-jawed, staring at the racetrack but actually into the future, and thinking, “Now, that’s a Derby horse.”
Last October, when Maxfield won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, he delivered not only one of the best juvenile performances of the year, but one of the most inspirational, for it inspired thoughts of roses and spires and, well, the first Saturday in May. Making his stakes debut after a show-stopping maiden victory at Churchill, he was last to leave the gate. He advanced as the field entered the second turn, swung outside, to the middle of the track, and then blew by his rivals as if he were the train they had just missed. He ran the fourth quarter-mile in 24.65 seconds, which is superlative for a 2-year-old, and drew clear to finish more than five lengths ahead of Gouverneur Morris. As if the moment weren’t already redolent of roses, Maxfield did his best running in the second turn, where the Derby is usually won.
And then an ankle injury sent him to the sidelines, smashing Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hopes and transforming those Derby thoughts into precarious hopes. But Churchill Downs announced this week that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 146th Derby will be run on the first Saturday in September, not May. And with that, Maxfield’s Derby status advanced from outside possibility to possible favorite. Retrospect will eventually offer a more-informed look at the situation, of course, but from here, at this moment, Maxfield could be the horse that benefits most from the change and from the disrupted stakes schedule.
“This is all terribly unfortunate for everyone. I think Bob Baffert nailed it when he said, ‘This reminds us that there are more important things than racing,’” said Brendan Walsh, Maxfield’s trainer, about the pandemic. “A lot of people have done great work just keeping the sport going. As for Maxfield, this (moving the Derby) puts us in a better spot to prepare him properly.”
Preparing for his return, Maxfield has had five official workouts since early February at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, including the two most recent moves at five-eighths of a mile. Last Saturday, he worked a bullet (fastest of 10 at the distance), 1:01.80.
“We’ve been very happy with him,” said Walsh, a native of County Cork, Ireland, who quickly has built a reputation as one of the sport’s best horsemen. “He’s been training and working well. He has done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
Walsh said the plan was to “tighten the screws a little bit” over the next couple weeks “to have a shot” at one of the final major Derby preps in April, “if that’s where we decide to go.”
But the pandemic has changed that plan, just as it has changed nearly everything. Not only has the Derby been moved, but Keeneland has canceled its spring season, and Aqueduct has canceled racing, at least for the moment. And Friday, Oaklawn Park announced it would move its Arkansas Derby from April 11 to May 2.
“We have more time now,” Walsh said. “The situation is very different. The important thing, though, is that we all get through this.”
All the questions that await 3-year-olds at the start of the year still apply to Maxfield, of course. How much will he progress and how quickly? Will he step forward with additional distance? And, in his case, has he completely moved beyond the injury that compromised his juvenile campaign? Yes, all the questions remain, but suddenly he has more than five months to answer them.
Coady Photography photos: Maxfield, with Jose Ortiz up, winning Keeneland's Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity last October. And winning trainer Brendan Walsh
Videos: Louisiana Derby, reaction to Kentucky Derby postponement to Sept. 5 and horsemen on uncertainty amid COVID-19.
Trainer Bret Calhoun (runs Chester Thomas' Mailman Money in $1 million TwinSpires Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds Saturday and hopes for a defection that will allow Thomas' Mr. Big News to also run. Calhoun and Thomas won last year's Louisiana Derby with By My Standards.) Starts with video of Mail Man Money, distinctive with his big blaze.
Trainer Greg Foley(runs Lloyd Madison's Major Fed in the Louisiana Derby). Foley is a lifelong Louisvillian who thinks he has a colt good enough to be in the Kentucky Derby, which is now Sept. 5.
Jockey Gabriel Saez(rides Chester Thomas' Mailman Money in the Louisiana Derby)
Trainer Steve Margolis(has Al Stall Memorial winner She'sonthewarpath in Saturday's $100,000 Tom Benson Memorial on the Louisiana Derby undercard) on the uncertainty horsemen face today.
From Tuesday in wake of announcement Kentucky Derby will be Sept. 5
Trainer Tom Amoss (among the leading trainers at the Fair Grounds and Churchill Downs)
Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen (they have Silver State and Chestertown in Louisiana Derby and leading Kentucky Oaks contender Finite in the Fair Grounds Oaks Saturday)
David Carroll, assistant to trainer Mark Casse (they have favored Enforceable and Lynn's Map in the Louisiana Derby)
Travis Foley, assistant to trainer Greg Foley (they have Major Fed in Louisiana Derby)
Ricky Giannini, assistant to trainer Brad Cox (they have Shake Some Action and Wells Bayou in the Louisiana Derby)