April 20, 2024

Maxfield overcomes adversity, fuels Kentucky Derby hopes in Matt Winn

Maxfield wins the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs (Coady Photography)

Maxfield would not be denied in Saturday’s $150,000 Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs, closing determinedly to score by a length in his 3-year-old comeback, and confirmed himself as a major contender for the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. Now perfect from three starts, the Grade 1-winning colt was guided by regular rider Jose Ortiz.

Brendan Walsh trains the Godolphin homebred son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, and the powerful dark bay resembles his sire. Maxfield, who left the starting gate as the 13-10 favorite, broke better than he did in a pair of juvenile starts, but was squeezed back on the first turn and didn’t appear comfortable in traffic while traveling an up-close eighth down the backstretch.

“The start is a key part of the race,” Ortiz said. “Last time I worked him out of the gate at Keeneland (on May 10), 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 urged his mount on the far turn, and Maxfield bulled his way between rivals while angling out for clear sailing entering the stretch. He accelerated into contention three-wide as Ny Traffic and Pneumatic, who were prominent from the start, dueled for the lead in upper stretch. The top two kept battling gamely, but Maxfield proved too much.

Maxfield drew even in the final sixteenth of a mile and forged ahead late to win comfortably in the end, with Ortiz easing his mount under the wire.

“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 2-year-old.”

Maxfield overcame a slow start to win his career debut at Churchill Downs in mid-September, closing fast through stretch to narrowly break his maiden at a 1 1/16-mile distance. He came back three weeks to post an impressive 5 1/2-length triumph in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, launching an eye-catching move on the far turn after missing the start.

“Jose gave him a great ride,” Walsh said. “He had a different kind of style than he did in the past. He broke really good. He won and we can’t ask for more than that.”

The four-month Kentucky Derby postponement should benefit Maxfield, who is obviously talented but probably needs racing experience. He returned from a 231-day layoff in the Matt Winn, and the June 20 Belmont Stakes (G1), which will be held at a 1 1/8-mile distance around one-turn, may be too quick a turnaround. With the Kentucky Derby being the main goal, the July 11 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland looks like a more reasonable target for Maxfield.

“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 (Kentucky Derby distance) being a problem at all,” Ortiz said.

As a new addition to the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Matt Winn awarded points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers. Maxfield increased his total to 60 after stopping the teletimer in 1:43.05.

Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up Ny Traffic, the 7-2 third choice, edged 5-2 Pneumatic by three-quarters of a length for second in deep stretch. Pneumatic was making his stakes debut after winning a maiden special weight and entry-level allowance at Oaklawn in his first two starts.

It was another 3 1/4 lengths back to Attachment Rate in fourth. Necker Island, early pacesetter Celtic Strike, Shake Some Action, Informative, Flap Jack, and Major Fed came next under the wire.

Bred in Kentucky, Maxfield is out of the Bernardini mare Velvetry, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and sire Sky Mesa; and multiple Grade 3 winner Golden Velvet, the dam of Grade 2 victor Lucullan and Grade 3 winner Innovative Idea. Maxfield counts multiple Grade 3 turf winner Caress as his second dam.

“Maxfield is thinking Derby,” track announcer Travis Stone said as the winner rolled home.