Evaluating Maxfield’s Chances on Triple Crown Trail After Promising Return

Maxfield made a successful return to competition after a nearly eight-month absence with a one-length win in the Matt Winn Stakes on May 23. (Coady Photography)

Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.


Dark Bay or Brown Colt

Sire (Father): Street Sense

Dam (Mother): Velvety, by Bernardini

Owner-Breeder: Godolphin (Ky.)

Trainer: Brendan Walsh

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was shifted from its normal first Saturday in May place on the calendar to Sept. 5, while the Preakness Stakes was postponed until Oct. 3 and the Belmont Stakes will kick off the 2020 Triple Crown on June 20 at the shortened distance of 1 1/8 miles.

Because so much has changed, let’s focus on an overview of how the featured horse in this profile would fit in the three races should his connections opt to target one or all of those events. This week we take a closer look at Maxfield, winner of the $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes May 23 at Churchill Downs.

Maxfield returned from a long layoff in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes May 23 and trainer Brendan Walsh and owner-breeder Godolphin’s patient approach paid dividends as he won by a measured length under Jose Ortiz to earn his third win in as many starts. Two days after the race, Walsh said they were considering the June 20 Belmont Stakes for Maxfield’s next start but wanted to give the colt plenty of time to see how he recovers from his comeback win before making a decision.

Ability: Godolphin homebred Maxfield made a nice first impression when winning a one-mile maiden special weight race by three-quarters of a length Sept. 14, 2019, at Churchill Downs. He followed with an even-more impressive 5 ½-length runaway victory in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity in which he rallied from ninth (9 ½ lengths off the pace) after a half-mile to 2 ½ lengths clear of nine opponents in early stretch.

Maxfield showed an exciting turn of foot in the Breeders’ Futurity while passing other horses who looked like they were running in quicksand compared with him.

The speed figures were not especially inspiring as Maxfield earned a 97 Equibase Speed Figure for the Breeders’ Futurity win and an 85 Beyer Speed Figure. He subsequently missed the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he needed surgery to remove chips from an ankle and was sidelined for the rest of his 2-year-old season and the start of his 3-year-old campaign.

Meanwhile, the runner-up from that Breeders’ Futurity, Gouverneur Morris, came back and ran third in a division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby this year, while third-place finisher Enforceable won a Grade 3 race this year and ran second in a division of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford.

Maxfield was arguably the biggest beneficiary from the postponement to September of the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Walsh was able to bring him back slowly and steadily, and the talented colt returned from the 231-day layoff in the Matt Winn Stakes, a two-turn race going 1 1/16 miles.

Maxfield looked in the paddock and post parade as though he had filled out nicely with significant physical development, and he showed mental development as well by breaking well from the starting gate for the first time in his career.

Hung wide and bumped early, Maxfield eventually settled into eighth but within three lengths of the pace. He rallied with a sweeping bid into the stretch and closed powerfully once he shifted gears to seize command in the final sixteenth of a mile.

Maxfield covered the final five-sixteenths of a mile in about 30 seconds and his final sixteenth of a mile in about six seconds, which means he finished extremely well given the long layoff.

Maxfield earned a new career-best 100 Equibase Speed Figure and a new top Beyer Speed Figure of 95. He was a little green in the stretch as he lugged in a bit late, but he has plenty of room for growth with only three starts to date.

What I really like about Maxfield is that he identifies his target(s) in the stretch and then goes on the attack and reels them in. Other 3-year-olds have run faster races to date this season – some significantly faster and at longer distances – but there is much to like about this Street Sense colt who might just be scratching the surface of his talent.

Running style: After breaking poorly in his first two starts, Maxfield got away much better in the Matt Winn and showed more early speed. He looked like he might just roll right over a horse in front of him entering the first turn, but he settled again into a nice rhythm off the pace and reserved his energy for a late run. While he profiles as a closer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Maxfield work out stalking trips in races with shorter fields and/or a slower pace as he seems to respond willingly to regular rider Jose Ortiz and has some natural speed.

Connections: Maxfield is a product of the powerful Godolphin global breeding and racing operation founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai. 

Godolphin won Eclipse Awards as outstanding owner in 2009 and 2012, and Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation shared the outstanding owner Eclipse Award with Lael Stables in 2006.

Godolphin has amassed 10 victories in the Dubai World Cup and Sheikh Mohammed’s homebred Bernardini won the 2006 Preakness Stakes among his more than 285 Group or Grade 1 victories in 14 different countries.

Trainer Brendan Walsh is a former assistant to Eddie Kenneally who took out his trainer’s license in 2012 and has won 310 races through May 25, including 21 group/graded stakes. Walsh earned his first stakes win with Cary Street in the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup at Parx Racing in September 2014; Maxfield gave him his first Grade 1 win in the 2019 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity. Walsh finished ninth in the 2019 Kentucky Derby with Plus Que Parfait while Multiplier ran 10th in the 2017 Belmont Stakes for Walsh.

Jose Ortiz earned his first victory in a U.S. Triple Crown race when he guided Tapwrit to a win in the 2017 Belmont Stakes, and Ortiz went on to win the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey that year. He led all North American riders by wins (351) in 2016 and purse earnings ($27,318,875) in 2017, when he also won the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile aboard Good Magic. Ortiz finished second in the 2018 Kentucky Derby with Good Magic and third in 2019 on Tacitus.

Pedigree: Maxfield is from the ninth crop of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, who was the champion 2-year-old male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner in 2006. Street Sense also won the 2007 Travers Stakes and finished second in that year’s Preakness Stakes.

Street Sense is the sire of U.S. multiple Grade 1 winners McKinzie, Sweet Reason, and Wedding Toast as well as a host of Australian Group 1 winners as a successful dual hemisphere sire. He has sired elite runners on both dirt and turf as well as top sprinters and two-turn horses.

Maxfield hails from a family that has produced Grade 1 winner and sire Sky Mesa and good sire Bernstein as well as champion Outstandingly. His dam (mother), Velvety, is by 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini and she was a winner at one mile and 70 yards. Velvety is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to the aforementioned Sky Mesa, multiple graded stakes winner and producer Golden Velvet, and two other graded-stakes-placed runners.

Maxfield’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Caress, by Storm Cat, was a graded stakes winner around two turns on both turf and dirt. A full-sister (same dam, same sire) to the aforementioned Bernstein, she went on to become a multiple graded stakes producer in the breeding shed.

Third dam (maternal great-grandmother), La Affirmed, by Affirmed, was a winner at 1 1/16 miles who produced four stakes winners.

By a true 1 ¼-mile horse in Street Sense and from a terrific family, Maxfield should have no problem navigating the 2020 Triple Crown sequence of the 1 1/8-mile Belmont, 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby, and 1 3/16-mile Preakness from a distance perspective. His typical sweeping rally that has twice been successful at Churchill Downs is more difficult to accomplish on the long turns of the 1 ½-mile main track at Belmont Park.

With success at Churchill Downs, I’d pinpoint the Kentucky Derby as the most likely jewel for Maxfield, but he also figures to be a main player in both the Belmont and Preakness Stakes should his connections target either or those races.

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