The first day of the weekend is relished by most, but for the people behind Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Godolphin operation, it has become a time to celebrate.
On June 5, Godolphin's Adayar captured the Group 1 Cazoo Derby at Epsom and the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets with Essential Quality. Then, three weeks later on June 26, the operation pulled off another major stakes double, capturing the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at The Curragh with Hurricane Lane and the $600,000 Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs with Maxfield.
Though the Stephen Foster wasn't a Grade 1, it has implications for one—the Grade 1 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic. As part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge program, the Stephen Foster provided an expense-paid berth into the Nov. 6 race at Del Mar.
On-hand to watch Maxfield's 3 1/4-length triumph over Warrior's Charge in the Stephen Foster, Jimmy Bell, president and racing manager for Godolphin USA, was all smiles.
"We kind of got this Saturday thing going with the Belmont and English Derby before, and today with the Irish Derby and good performance from Maxfield today," he said. "Just a testament to Sheikh Mohammed's overall breeding program. These are homebreds. His sportsmanship. His international racing. We're very, very proud to be a part of it. A lot of people in the background doing a lot of good things."
As is his custom, Maxfield raced from off the pace in the Stephen Foster, though he was always within striking range. Sixth for the first half-mile of the race as Empty Tomb set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile race with fractions of :23.33 and :46.88, Maxfield crept up to fifth after Sprawl took command with three-quarters in 1:10.70.
Then the fun for the Godolphin team began. Cut loose by jockey Jose Ortiz, Maxfield blew past the leaders with a four-wide rally, and Ortiz confidently hand rode him down the stretch, only occasionally tapping him on the shoulder over the final furlong.
"I just sort of had to stay out of his way," said Ortiz. "He has a big stride and does it so nicely. It's great to be back here at Churchill with this horse. He seems to be getting better and loves it here."
The winner, 4-for-4 at Churchill Downs, is a 4-year-old son of Street Sense. He raced 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.54, more than a second off the 1:47.28 stakes record set by Victory Gallop in 1999. Last year, Tom's d'Etat won the Stephen Foster in 1:47.30.
Heavily favored at 2-5 odds against a field comprised mostly of horses with modest stakes accomplishments, Maxfield paid $2.80 to win. He carried co-high weight of 121 lbs. with fifth-place Chess Chief, just two lbs. more than the other seven competitors.
Typically a frontrunner, Ten Strike Racing and Madaket Stables' Warrior's Charge, was slow into stride and closed from fifth to grab second, two lengths in front of Sprawl, who tired to third.
"He broke okay. Somehow, this year, it seems he doesn't have as much early speed as he showed over the past year or so. I was still happy with him," said his Warrior's Charge's jockey, Florent Geroux. "I tried to put him somewhere not too far off. But very pleased how he relaxed, how he handled things. I thought I had a great at the three-eighths pole as I swung out before Maxfield made his run. But he was just a little bit too strong for me. He swallowed me up and took over pretty quickly.
"Still really proud of our horse. He ran a great second, actually."
South Bend was fourth, followed by Chess Chief, Empty Tomb, Necker Island, Visitant, and Silver Dust.
Maxfield took the long way around. He raced 46 more feet than the rail-drawn Chess Chief, who saved the most ground in the race, and 20 more feet than the runner-up, according to Trakus data.
He is part of a powerful trio of leading U.S.-based Breeders' Cup Classic prospects for Godolphin that also includes Grade 1 Dubai World Cup Sponsored By Emirates Airline winner Mystic Guide, trained by Mike Stidham, and Essential Quality, trained by Brad Cox.
For now, it seems Godolphin will keep them separated. Mystic Guide is bound for the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park July 3, and Essential Quality is a candidate for the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 28, among other major races restricted to 3-year-olds.
Bell suggested the $1 million Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 7 could fall in Maxfield's plans.
"We'll see how he comes out, but we surely hope he can continue down that path, find a spot at Saratoga," he added.
Walsh was reluctant to think too far ahead, knowing physical setbacks derailed Maxfield from competing in the Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown.
"He has so much talent. It's unbelievable," he said, while his trainee returning to be unsaddled. "I'm just blessed to have a horse as good as him.
Maxfield is the lone winner out of five foals and two to race from Velvety, a Godolphin-bred daughter of Bernardini. One of her unraced foals is a 2-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly named Loved.
Velvety is out of the multiple graded stakes-winning Caress, a $3.1 million purchase by Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock agent, John Ferguson, at the 2000 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, where Caress was consigned by John Williams, agent. Caress is also the dam of sire Sky Mesa (Pulpit).