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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


MAY 24, 2020 – In racing and mainstream media alike, storylines during the month of May have been mainly about “racing’s survival,” “racing’s great opportunity,” or, as the first leg of a three-race series, “can a Belmont Stakes at a mile and-an-eighth really be for real?”

Well, thanks to a terrific racehorse called Maxfield, it may be more than “just” a Belmont. It can be an event that turns the fortunes of the sport on its head, just as racing’s altered schedule has Thoroughbred racing’s 2020 Triple Crown series.

Maxfield’s victory in Saturday’s Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs, given his backstory and performance, was the best seasonal debut made by a three-year-old in the Year of the Pandemic.

By becoming a viable contender for the Belmont (and think about this for a minute; the possible race favorite in an event featuring three of the most accomplished sophomores of 2020, two of which are undefeated) he can make this renewal, based on sheer talent, a Belmont for the ages.

Should Maxfield run, and win, the Kentucky Derby as a rubber match is nearly unprecedented. Yes, there have been scores settled among natural rivals in Derby’s past, but not on this level if this race is as good as it looks on paper. Add a talented gelding such as Sole Volante, and others, anything’s possible.

In a prep terms, a one-turn, nine-furlong bridge to the Derby just doesn’t get any better developmentally. And for a traditionalist to utter “let the past be damned” is beyond-bounds shocking, even to the author who posits it. The unthinkable has become inescapable. Pray this quartet remains healthy.

To be sure, it’s an indecent proposal but the salacious irony is that the Preakness Stakes, most recently the *Triple Crown’s red-headed stepchild [asterisk optional] becomes the troika’s crowning event. Good for Maryland racing.

With or without the return of major league sports this summer, interest in racing is in position to harken back to its golden age when a larger swath of the American sporting public cared deeply about Thoroughbred sport.

This equine three-way would feature a dual Triple Crown-winning trainer, a dual New York-bred lightning-in-a-bottle fantasy, or a return-from-injury yarn that possibly could eclipse the recent accomplishments of the great turf mare Lady Eli.

If this all shakes out, it’s because the history of “America’s Race” demands that it play before a live audience of 150,000 fans and earn a Top 10 Neilson Rating.

At the time the decision was made, Labor Day weekend, four months farther down the pandemic trail, was a prudent choice for a publicly owned company.

That scheduling decision made yesterday’s Matt Winn, with its 50 Derby-qualifying points to the winner, the most significant renewal in its history, and so apt. For the uninitiated, Winn isn’t just a nominal blast from racing’s past.

Eventually a Churchill Downs president, Matt Winn’s promotion of the Kentucky Derby gave the Louisville Jockey Club its first-ever annual profit.

Further, under his stewardship, he popularized the sport by innovating for bettors, first by supplanting bookmaking with pari-mutuels, and later reducing the cost of a wager from $5 to $2. Now Winn’s name might be recalled for making the overall quality of this series its best ever.

All of that will depend on the participants, of course, but the return of Maxfield raised the anticipation of the Belmont Stakes several notches without a Triple Crown on the line, and that’s unprecedented. The hard stats of the 2020 Winn are these:

Maxfield returned from a 231-day layup following surgery and completed 1-1/16 miles was 1:43.05 on a wet track labeled fast, trailing fractions of :23.98, :48.21, 1:12.44 and 1:36.92, eased the last jumps of a worthy final sixteenth that required 6.87 seconds to complete.

Running to a recent workout, Maxfield was prominent early but was caught wide racing into the first turn. A no-hoper fought it out on the lead while well backed and promising Pneumatic sat in the garden, third on the fence.

After an alert start, Jose Ortiz allowed Maxfield to find his rhythm in the 3-path while between horses in the backstretch run. When the serious running began, Ortiz helped himself while tipping out and finding a seam 6-wide at headstretch for a clear, wide run.

Meanwhile, Pneumatic, staying inside, and Ny Traffic, stalking the leaders through moderate fractions, launched their own battle head-to-head battle and continued well, both drifting out. Maxfield, in relentless pursuit, drifted in while rallying strongly.

Eventually, Maxfield wore them down after Ortiz corrected Maxfield and continued to surge. After gaining command, Ortiz eased up jumps for the wire as Maxfield began looking for new rivals to conquer.

In four weeks, he will get his wish–if his connections allow him to come to Long Island for the 152nd running of the Belmont four weeks hence. Brand new *history, in the waiting.

Coming Tuesday: Sharing’s top class return in the Tepin, a review of three other noteworthy supporting stakes, a stakes class debut performance and the Grade 2 Whittingham and a Wildman in the Daytona turf sprint

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39 Responses

  1. So, what do I do? Wait until Maxfield’s Belmont Stake’s race where the blue blood will no doubt be the favorite and pay zilch?

    On another thread here at HRI, a few commentators wrote about their most cherished horse race they watched over the past years. I wish to mention mine: About twelve minutes ago when Carina won the 5th at Churchill; I’m hopeful that I will have another favorite race in just a few minutes.

  2. Amen to everything you say, JP, with one nitpicking exception. Lady Eli, literally, came back from death’s stall. Maxfield came back from an ankle chip.

    Interesting proposition: who will be the favorite if the (now) Big Four all show up in the Belmont. Maxfield is the right now horse but by the time June 20 rolls around the Baffert mystique will kick in as well as the NY home team factor.

    How about this: Tiz the Law could wind up the fourth choice. What odds could you have gotten on that about 7 p.m. on Florida Derby Day when he was the right now horse?

    These are things racing fans, with the exception of Wendell, who we love dearly, will be debating for the next four weeks.

    1. Yeah, knew Lady Eli was a stretch when I wrote it. Justified it by thinking, well, she was a “turf specialist.” Dirt and three-year-olds is a different kind of challenge.

      Yes, let’s debate away. Racing needs this kind of “controversy.” And I think you’re right, Tiz the Law might be 4th choice.

  3. Mr. Jicha: Been waiting for another ‘one-liner’ that knocks my socks off. For the record, you and Mr. Pricci will always be my two favorites in promoting Thoroughbred racing (it s/be noted that I have never offered commentary at another racing website after you guys came on board – twelve/thirteen years?) Mr. Crist at DRF always was a gentlemen (I received a handshake from him at the first NHC). Terrific person, but smoked to much, but he improved the DRF PP’s tremendously with information; but, and there is always a ‘but’, the DRF would not let a nobody like me to comment that would be published more than once every three months (I was told that I would monopolize the letters-to-the-editor). Go figure!

    1. Wendell, I’m afraid I’m going to have to have Elizabeth Warren look into your monopolistic practices as it regards the HRI comment section in the future.

  4. Would have loved to see the Belmont at a mile, but a one-turn 1 1/8 miles is good enough of a distinctive sort of race that the Belmont is a 1 1/2 miles. Nontraditional to be sure, but still distinctive. Can’t be done anywhere else.

    1. Maxfield looked great – and he’s gorgeous, the image of his broodmare sire, Bernardini, who had three SW yesterday !

      The Belmont will be a fantastic race – I’m not sure he’ll go, but it’s shaping up as a highly competitive affair. All of the best 3 year olds won’t be there, but close to it. I hope that honor will go to the Travers.

    2. I love it too, Al, the long sprints. I only wished they didn’t wreck the chute or you could have one-turn mile and a quarters, like back in the day.

      But two turns is by definition more of a classic for route racing. One exception: I want all my mile races run out of a chute.

      Thanks for checking in; you were pretty good on the turf as I recall, Al!

  5. The * Belmont will be a terrific race. Wonder what the numbers on the contenders look like. It is not the Belmont,but a great start to the Triple Crown. It could end up being the best race of the Triple Crown.

  6. While I’m replying to WMC’s message at the top of this thread, I wanted all HRI’s readers to potentially see it.

    You pluck down a Jackson in hopes of getting back 6 Jacksons, a Hamilton, a Lincoln and a Washington or more. Your favorite horse is the one who just won a race for you ??? Wow, Wendell, I think that you’re missing the point.

    Most of us playing this game want to win. Some truly don’t; they keep doing the same losing things over and over and wonder why they continue to steadily hand over their bankroll. The goal is to win (yes) but to enjoy the great entertainment along the way. If you choose not to marvel seeing the best thoroughbreds in the country compete, then you’ve turned the sport into simply a commodity game. It wouldn’t matter to you if you’re betting thoroughbreds, trotters, greyhounds or birds, you’re happy if your animal hits the wire first. Turn the page, next race please.

    When I recall some of my favorite races, I can vividly remember where I was, who was with me, the weather, how much I wagered, how much I won and say “Did you just see that incredible race ???” While I would never say that you are wrong, I would ask you (and others) to take a look at the 1999 Whitney and the 2010 Alabama and imagine that you just wagered on the winner. You will find that it’s one remarkable experience . . . one that lasts for a lifetime.

  7. All I can say Richard is thank you for getting it. I don’t see the sport and wagering as mutually exclusive. They are the 1 and 1A of my life and the embers still burn. I may get tired of the work at times, which I do, but God will decide when I retire for good.

    1. With simulcasting too many times there’s no time to even remember the horse’s name.I play the # from the charting deductions,write down the numerals and bet the combos. About an hour ago hit a $26 horse and the following $106 DD and I still don’t know their names.Watching both racing networks I believe that T,,G offers too much but not well,not enough important info. while blabbering too much about the fav$. Its like me approaching a buffet table with foods foreign to me ( Indian,Vietnamese,Somali,,).That quarter screen thing,,,with your bottom half empty is ridiculous.


          1. All systems have warts but also offer services that weren’t even close to being available 20 years ago. I’m happy to have them, warts and all…

          2. I’d rather have a couple of reputable tracks, yes,just 2,available than this type of superficial run of the mill inept carousel.Sometimes I Do miss the early OTB days,mid 70′,when we had to wait some twenty minutes x the next Belmont or Big A race.Just because they “offer” more it does not mean that it’s better.We read ,deciphered and digested the races PP,including workouts before we entered the letters on the betting slips.Whomever wait that Too Much Ain’t Enough was a glutton x punishment.Where is the Focus with so much uninteresting stuff thrown at the viewers,patrons,bettors?Two tracks with about 4-5 intriguing races is enough.Do you all devour everything at the Buffet table?

          3. Whomever Said that too much ain’t enough was wrong and much,much worse.

  8. More than ever I regret that the Belmont, if it had to be reconditioned, wasn’t set at a mile and a quarter. It would have been like a tardy Kentucky Derby, 10 furlongs just as always.

    Nine furlongs makes it identical to almost all the Derby preps.

    The fact that Authentic isn’t coming (I know BB has two but it isn’t like super trainers haven’t started more in the Derby) and Honor A.P. is also skipping the Belmont and Maxfield is iffy is all the indication necessary that horsemen are not treating it like the start of a real Triple Crown. Nobody with a really talented colt skips the Derby for any other race.

  9. I proposed 1-1/4 miles a month ago but after learning it would start on the turn, like other 1-1/4 miles at Belmont, changed my mind. They have converted the chute for other uses; mistake!

  10. Mr. Moore: A hundred or so years ago, back when Norther Dancer, Kelso, and Native Dancer were getting all the ink along with Cordero and Shoemaker I, indeed, believed that a few stake races represented the very best thoroughbreds. But, after a few trips to NYRA tracks, I soon realized that, unless I had a program in front of me informing me that the next race was a claimer or a stake race, all thoroughbreds looked the same to me and all races were pretty much the same.

    Yes, ‘the goal is to win’; that is the only goal! I enjoyed equally my numerous trips to Green Mountain, Rockingham, Lincoln Downs, and the summer Fair racing throughout New England. I am not gambling on thoroughbred races for the supposedly entertainment aspect that accompanies racing. My favorite race will be the next race I win. And, the ones I remember are those that paid balloons. Nothing to me exceeds the excitement of having my selection in the hunt as the horses come down the stretch; I guess this is my entertainment.

    Take away the ability to bet on a plodder and Thoroughbred racing would be out of business the next day. Entertainment? Huh?

    Back in the early eighties I taped ten races, both claiming and stake races. I asked several ‘cappers to indicate which were stake races and which were claiming races (tape on the TV screen blocked the racetrack and there was no volume). Not one comrade got more than seven right! And all got one race wrong, a cheap claiming race, where the winner won by the length of the stretch.

    Now, to support my believe that all thoroughbreds look alike, sneak into a barn, say Pletchers, and take the halter off of all the horses and turn them loose. Pletcher’s boys will need to check the lip tattoo or micro chip to identify the horses – could take an entire day.

    1. WMC, thank you for your message.

      From the “good old” days, when you went to the track and bet just the nine races in front of you. Well before ADW’s and even prior to New York City OTB’s, the wagering day was quite different than it is today. Oh, and I would play those nine races, often lose some cash and try to get them “next time.” Until one day when I said, it’s time to step in here with a real plan – something completely different – maybe 1-3 races that could put me ahead and keep me well out in front. Things began to change for the better and this bettor.

      Big stakes races are quite important to me, so we differ greatly in that regard. Some of my best winners were actually huge overlays at even-money or slightly higher. Attach an Exacta or Daily Double to them and – jackpot !!! You’ll also see me at the screen for Delaware, Finger Lakes or another venue whenever I feel that I have a good thing. Patience is now my specialty and I’ll wait all day until the board comes up in my favor. I won’t always win – not even close – but I’ve given myself a fighting chance to win.

      This Summer won’t be quite the same if Monmouth and Saratoga race without spectators. Hopefully, my local simulcast center will be back in action soon – with the customary cast of characters yelling “C’mon 11” only when the horse is three in front with 5 steps to go. Sure, you had it – where was the hollering earlier in the race ???

      Wishing you lots of great, memorable hits along the way . . .

      1. Finally someone else who hints of being a spot bettor! Been in several types of betting joints from bars to racinos to Otbs in several states and two of them were a pleasure studying, reading and betting there, maybe because it was at the peak in my opinion, of good competitive allowance and above level of horses, trainers and rivalries, that is, the yrs between 1975-86 and enjoying winning, having fun with available ladies was idyllic at both the big Albany place and of course, at the Referral in New Haven, Conn. ,of I 95 and on the bay overlooking the Long Island sound. The worst? Suffolk downs and the new and quickly closed track in Birmingham, Ala, which was later turned into a Kennel joint for idiots betting on poor hungry Greyhounds chasing a fake rabbit. See you at Belmont!

          1. JGR, thanks. Simulcasting can be a totally overwhelming experience, if you’re really trying to bet every track. I’m losing whenever I’m simply “chasing” for winners just because it’s 3 minutes to post time and I know that I can still get the wager in. On a typical trip to Monmouth, Saratoga or the nearby simulcast center, I’ll have a few good things figured out in advance. But how do you play them; Win, Exotics, some combination ??? Then you factor in the events that happen before you make the play(s) – scratches, low odds, off the turf and loads of other possibilities – and then make your adjustments accordingly. I would much rather have one winner and be ahead for the day than have 4 winners and get beat. Money management was not always my strong suit, but it’s vital now !!! Keep winning.

  11. John,
    I’m glad Maxfield made me look good after my comment to your May 20 column. His two wins last fall were eye-catching and at the time made him my (hopeful) Derby horse.

    As a frequent reader but to now a very infrequent commentator on your site I just want to say how much I appreciate it, including the postings by your “regulars.” On other horse racing sites, which I won’t mention by name, a worthwhile article or column is likely to be followed by some of the most ignorant, insulting or ridiculous postings.

    Some thoughts: Despite the opportunity to shine in these abnormal times, I doubt very much that horse racing will come close to ever recapturing more than a scant bit of the sports spotlight. By midsummer we may be seeing an overload of NBA & NHL playoffs, some sort of a truncated MLB season and the specter of “big daddy” NFL on the horizon. Most people are likely not even aware that the Derby has been rescheduled.

    When you reference the 1¼ mile chute at Belmont, I’m wondering how many readers even know about or remember it? My good memory recalls Forego, among others, winning stakes races out of the chute but not much else. Do you recall when it ceased being utilized?

    Lastly, if the big four show up for the Belmont I see the two Bafferts vying or very close to the pace with Tiz the Law not far behind. If the pace is strong, with several others involved, Maxfield (or Sole Volante) figure to be the beneficiaries. Hoping Maxfield shows up on June 20 but in any event we still will have four weeks of high anticipation even without him.

    Rich Gold

  12. Like you, Richard, anticipation will be high, even without him. In addition to the Belmont this year, there are many other bridge races to choose from and I wonder if the competition–at this stage–or the timing–at this stage, is asking a lot. He’ll have to dig a lot deeper to beat the Belmont bunch.

    I don’t remember when. Asked a horseman source and he said he didn’t know exactly, “but it’s been a long time.” And he’s right. Now part of the chute is incorporated somehow into the training track, there might be a tractor yard back there, and my contact said there might be some agricultural thing going on. (If that’s the case, I’m thinking mushrooms to keep bettors in the dark).

    Horse racing’s popularity won’t return to the Seabiscuit era–even with today’s depression!–but I believe it can be more popular than it was pre-pandemic. Just a guess. And who knows, when the second wave comes, racing might be the only game in town again.

    Beach anyone?

  13. And, yes, you were right about Maxfield, but you did have a lot of company. As noted, the HRI Faithful might be a bit crude at times, but they know their stuff!

  14. As you all know, I don’t pay much attention to stake races; but, I have respect for tradition. To have the Belmont Stakes being run before the KD and Preakness is shameful; and to change the distance from 1 1/2 miles clearly demonstrates to me that NYRA, Churchill, and SG are simply interested in making money – to hell with the TC history; they gotta get the races in this year, period! The blue bloods, trained by the usual suspects and ridden by the expected jocks, are not ready by any means to show their best effort.

    You bet ’em! I’ll watch, maybe.

    1. So much continual regurgitated disdain for successful trainers! Don’t remember ever betting against a pick just because of its trainer’s dislike if I believed that it was the right horse to bet in a particular race.Yes,sometimes I chose one over another because winning% differences,esp if it was about a race on a turf surface or longer race but usually,esp since the Advent of simulcasting three or more races simultaneously,who has times to reflect and masticate such stuff?…Still wondering if I’ve ever had a disturbing Mantra of my own,,Namaste’ !!

  15. John: After a little research, it appears that the first 10F race at Belmont, run on the turn, rather than the chute, was the 78 Suburban won by Upper Nile. It also turned out to be Forego’s last race, as he finished 5th, at 4/5, on a sloppy track. The irony is that the Big Guy’s greatest triumph was out of that 10 F chute in the 76 Marlboro. Its just unfortunate that NYRA couldn’t have brought it back for this year’s *Belmont.

    1. Interesting stuff Fram. Too much to do to get into the weeds on the chute, so to speak. Nice piece of trivia, too, re Forego. Thanks!

  16. Mr. Goldberg wrote above that he enjoys the commentary by ‘regulars’. I hope I am in that group.

    Mr. Jicha: Thank you for the rare compliment; but, please, realize that politically we are antipodean (this word several years ago required a political commentator for the Hartford Courant to email me admitting that I had flummoxed her with that word).

    For many years I and also a serious horseplayer have always gone to the local joint and occasionally to the track. Most days we arrive at the joint a half-hour before opening and we crack a Foster’s. We discuss the day’s races, and usually disagree on selections. But, after many years it is verboten for either of us to discuss politics. My dear friend is in your camp, but he is in my camp when I need him.

    As Rodney King said, after being beaten senseless, ‘why can’t we just get along’.

    I’ve printed and posted your comment on my bedroom wall; it will make me sleep better. Thanks again.

  17. Sadly, WMC, politics is everywhere now. How a pandemic can be politicized is just beyond all reason to me. But reason seems to be a luxury afforded to the precious view in the current environment…

  18. Mr Moore,it Is the hardest part! Ax any politician( blowing OPM, that Is taxpayers) ! Tried,x a while,Kelleys system but it too slow.Most players at any track or casino venue lacks,patience,diligence, fort .attitude and or money.Too many are lazy or distracted by banal stuff like gossip,politics ase if we Will ever change anything.Most of the home i skip the first race to ber a feel of the attitude,atmosfere but still jot down any ber combo which Is interesting fie the second race,,and Yes,i do add the best jockey to mu deduced choices: Why would he be gyere in a cheapy if he fie jot think that he could make the gimmick? So long!

  19. Most of the home i skip the opening get a feel,track condition etc Why would a leading jockey stick around in a cheapy if he did jot believe that he had a chance ( to make the gimmicks,) ??

    1. JGR, patience can be your best attribute. Which track / race is your Best Bet running today ??? After finishing my handicapping, go back to that race and look at it again. Let’s say he’s 6-1 on the Morning Line, I’d like to get at least 9-2, will settle for 7-2 or may pass the race. Do I have 2 Best Bets back-to-back for a Daily Double or two of them just one race apart (Races 4 and 6) where I can play rolling Doubles on Races 4-5 and 5-6 and the Pick 3, depending on which wagers are offered. Get the Win bet first, Win and Place on price shots and then hone in on the exotics. We don’t need a ton of action, we need one or two nice winners.

      I seem to play the races much like WMC – mainly Win, Exacta, Double – cold wagers, whenever possible – or a safety valve (80% on one and 20% on another). You won’t see me betting $60 of $1 Pick 3’s. Then I step away, mindful not to criticize anyone for their style of play – unless and until they complain that they’re losing way too often. I rarely play Supers, Pick 4, 5 or 6 and avoid all the Rainbow pools creating the huge carryovers. I’m pretty sure that churn is your friend and I’ve heard that saying from some of the sharpest handicappers in the land – like Mr. Pricci.

  20. Mr Moore, the only pool$ I, barely ,follow sre the Lotto ones when over some 260 MIL$. When I peek at the program I usually scratch 3 or more races And never left back. I even tear those pages off the thick daily races program whether it’s the Dry or others. Why waste time? Cheap maiden claimers? Time to have a snack or some fresh air, check mail box.. Ability, belief ,Confidence and Discipline are my ABC D s. I’ll leave you with one personal suggestion reinforcement even it’s worth less than two Venezuelan centados : check Dick Mitchell ‘s books esp one whose title I’ve forgotten. ” if you’ve found s way to win profit, keep it inside you won’t impress anyone because they are as a losing lunatic,worse than they themselves ever considered of really being”. You welcome. PS: off topic.. I really Still miss the old Sports Eye with its fractions esp in sprint races. Audio X now. JGR.

  21. Sorry but traveling and scribbling on this new tablet came with outta control typing mistakes. Who Knew?,” they think that You’re a worse losing lunatic than they.. “.Next stop, Lindenhurst, home , a block away from the bay,American Venice,Lawn Guyland style, you know, clams, flounder, German chocolate cakes, fresh cut Boars Head meats on a sesame seed bagel or baguette… Can’t you smell it? Family, relatives,, L I F E ! ! 🏃🚄💨💨💨

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