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