(Maxfield / Coady Photography)
From the Fair Grounds Media Team:
Maxfield is finally getting the chance to make up for lost time. Godolphin’s homebred was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in 2019 and the Kentucky Derby (G1) last year but returned with aplomb in winning the local Tenacious to close out 2020. Saturday he starts as a prohibitive favorite in the $200,000 Mineshaft (G3) at 1 1/16 miles, which should serve as a perfect launching pad for what his connections hope will finally be a season-long campaign.
The Mineshaft is a worthy supporting feature on a six stakes, 13-race card dubbed “Louisiana Derby Day Preview Day”, which is highlighted by the $400,000 Risen Star (G2), presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln, and the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2), presented by Fasig-Tipton. The Risen Star is by far the deepest and most competitive Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) prep to date and will offer a total of 85 Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5). While the Rachel Alexandra will be offered for 3-year-old fillies, with the same 85 qualifying points up for grabs for the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1).
The Mineshaft, Rachel Alexandra & Risen Star are all part of the “All Stakes Late Pick Five” (races 9-13) with an estimated pool of $400,000 and the “All Stakes Late Pick Four” (races 10-13) with an estimated pool of $750,000.
Trainer Brendan Walsh has had to endure some obvious disappointments with Maxfield (post 4 at 4-5 on Mike Diliberto’s morning line, with Florent Geroux to ride), a 4-year-old son of Street Sense who is perfect in four starts and has long thought to be among the most talented horses in training. Showing it in the afternoon has proven to be a bit more difficult, as he’s started just four times in what is now his third season of racing. Maxfield missed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with a minor foot injury and then got derailed off the Derby Trail last year when he came out of a June workout with a condylar fracture of his right front cannon bone.
Walsh regrouped, aimed for 2021, and checked off the first box when Maxfield returned in the December 19 Tenacious and won easily by 2 ½ lengths. He also did it being much closer to the lead. He settled in second early, which was in sharp contrast to his first three wins, when he was no closer than eighth at the first pace call. For Walsh, the adaptability Maxfield showed only added another club to his bag.
“He broke good, he was right outside the pace horse, and it worked out good,” Walsh said. “He’s a horse that doesn’t need to be ridden any particular way, he’s very easy to rate as well. If someone wants to go quick, that’s fine, we can sit off of them as well. We can ride him any way the race suits.”
The Mineshaft will also be just the second time Maxfield has been able to put back-to-back races together. He did it to start his career, winning on debut at Churchill in September 2019 before blasting grade 1 foes by 5 ½ lengths in Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity a month later. Maxfield won the Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill in June before his injury, then was off until the Tenacious. Needless to say, Walsh is looking forward to getting his stable star on an extended run for the first time in his career.
“I’m excited that we can get him on a schedule and build a foundation,” Walsh said. “The succession of the races is relatively close so you don’t have to be as hard as them as you probably do going into the first race (off a layoff). Hopefully he can get into a nice little mode from here on in and we can keep ticking over. I think he’ll improve for having had that first run. He was a little fresh too. And fitness-wise he should improve as well with that run off the bench.”
As with any trainer with a star horse, Walsh is left to balance the present with the future. Add in a horse like Maxfield, and the highwire becomes that much trickier to cross. Walsh expects to know a lot more after the Mineshaft.
“He’s taught me not to look too far ahead but I have plenty of things going around in my head,” Walsh said in regards to the rest of his campaign. “You try to take it one step at a time. Saturday is going to be a big step for the horse. We’ll get a great idea where we stand with him and where we are going forward.”
John Oxley’s Enforceable (post 1 at 6-1 with Adam Beschizza) won the local Lecomte (G3) last year and was eventually seventh in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Mark Casse. The 4-year-old son of Tapit never could quite get back to his local win, as he lost six straight, though four came against the best of his generation. Enforceable put that all behind him January 17, when he dazzled winning a local optional-claimer by 8 lengths in extremely fast time, which has Casse’s Fair Grounds assistant Dave Carroll eagerly looking forward to the Mineshaft with a horse that’s been a barn favorite.
“He’s loves the Fair Grounds and he’s been near and dear to us with all the big races like the Kentucky Derby that he’s taken us to,” Carroll said. “We were so proud of him last time; we weren’t expecting that. Can he reproduce that back-to-back? We’ll have to see but he’s really doing well and we’re looking forward to it.”
Madaket Stables, Wonder Stables, and Clint and Lance Gasaway’s Wells Bayou (post 2 at 6-1 with John Velazquez) should improve off a third-place finish in the local January 16 Louisiana (G3), as that was his first start since running fifth in Oaklawn Park’s Arkansas Derby (G1) last May. The 4-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky wired the Louisiana Derby (G2) last year for trainer Brad Cox, who expects to see a tighter version of Wells Bayou Saturday, who has been training with Cox’s talented 3-year-old Mandaloun, one of the favorites in the Risen Star.
“He had a fantastic move (on the 6th) working a bullet with Mandaloun and I’m excited about running him,” Cox said. “He should move forward, but he’ll have to move way forward to beat a horse like Maxfield.”
Calumet Farm’s homebred Blackberry Wine (post 7 at 5-1 with Gabriel Saez) set a slow pace and held second in the Louisiana and has finally been able to string a few strong races together. The 4-year-old son of Oxbow has flashed plenty of brilliance throughout his career for trainer Joe Sharp but has had trouble backing it up. Blackberry Wine romped in an optional-claimer here in December prior to the strong run in the Louisiana, which signals he could be poised for another strong effort in a race without a lot of early speed. He is cross-entered in the Fair Grounds on turf (race 11).
Completing the Mineshaft field from the rail out: the Estate of James Coleman Jr.’s Chess Chief (post 3 at 8-1 with James Graham), who won an optional-claimer here December 18 for trainer Dallas Stewart; Al Rashid Stables’ Dinar (post 5 at 15-1 with Shaun Bridgmohan), third in the Tenacious for trainer Cherie DeVaux; and Courtlandt Farms’ Sonneman (post 6 at 8-1 with Joe Talamo), second in the Tenacious and fourth in the Louisiana for trainer Steve Asmussen.
First post for Saturday’s 13-race “Louisiana Derby Preview Day” card will be at noon CT.
Additional Mineshaft quotes:
Carroll, Enforceable: “He’s kind of untypical of the Tapits because sometimes they can be a little hot-headed and hard to handle but they are obviously talented. Normally he’s a horse who needs a lot of front on the front end but I think the short field helped a lot last time. He doesn’t always break great but in a small field you don’t get shuffled back as much. Throughout the race he was always traveling beautifully and he exploded turning for home. We’re hoping now that he’s 4 he’s maturing, filling out, and hopefully he can put good races back-to-back.”