Debate is one of the great things about sports. The conversation spurs some deep pondering as somebody may think this one is the best while others have contrary thoughts. This can be especially true in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Being the oldest “professional” sport in the world, comparisons are commonplace. The athletes and equipment in racing have not changed much over the years. You may not be able to easily compare Red Grange with Derrick Henry, but Man o’War and American Pharoah are far more alike.
With all that in mind, we are going to throw out a statement that may initiate debate but has plenty of substance. Maxfield is one of the best horses to ever run at Churchill Downs. Considering they have been running at this Louisville oval since 1875, that is a statement. Here is a more than a little meat on the bone that backs it up.
His racing career may have been a bit brief as he only had eleven lifetime starts, but eight wins, two second place finishes and one third tells us he was always running big. Nine of those runs were in graded stakes company which means there was good competition in the starting gates beside him. Here is the real kicker…Maxfield was a perfect five for five in starts beneath the Twin Spires.
Interestingly enough, this strapping son of Street Sense began his career on September 14, 2019, at Churchill Downs with a win under jockey Jose Ortiz. Ten races later he ended his career with another powerful score in the grade 1 Clark Stakes at this same Downs dirt beneath Jose Ortiz. During this, his four year old year, this Brendan Walsh trained behemoth became the first horse to pull off the Churchill trifecta. Wins in the Alysheba Stakes, Stephen Foster Stakes, and Clark made him the first to take the biggest three races for older horses at the world’s most famous Thoroughbred race track.
Maxfield may have saved his best for last with an impressive score in the Clark. Facing a stellar field of seven others, Ortiz masterfully guided his charge to victory. Hustling out of the gate from his outside post, Maxfield ran a close second to the speedy race co-favorite Midnight Bourbon. As the runners turned for home, Ortiz urged Maxfield and this fabulous frame of a horse responded. Striking the front, Maxfield poured past Midnight Bourbon and then refused to let a charging Happy Saver by. Crossing under the wire a half length ahead, this Godolphin-owned runner finished his racing career in fitting fashion.
“I have been on a lot of good horses and Maxfield is certainly one of them,” says Ortiz. “It was really good to see him finish his career with a win like this. I am very thankful for the opportunity to ride him and Brendan has just done a fantastic job with him.”
The training job by Walsh certainly has been a huge factor in the rise to glory. After taking the grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in early October 2019, Maxfield was the early favorite for the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Injury sidelined him for several months and he was not able to run again until May 23 of 2020. With eyes on a start in the Covid delayed Kentucky Derby, injury again sidelined him. Carefully nurturing his prized colt back to health, Walsh returned his charge back to the track and a fabulous four year old campaign that saw him run seven times at five different tracks.
“This game teaches us you should never think about what might have been”, says Walsh. “Even when he was injured we always knew he would come back and hopefully do something special. He’s just such a quality horse and this full body of racing at four proved that.”
Maxfield has certainly been a special horse for the Brendan Walsh barn. As the Irish-born conditioner will quickly admit horses like him don’t come around that often. The ability to come back from injury and return to top form testifies to the quality of both horse and trainer. To see them together in the winner’s circle beneath the Twin Spires one final time in a grade 1 was a warm fuzzy for all.
“It’s really fantastic to see him finish with a grade 1 at this track”, says Walsh. “Eight wins in eleven starts and never out of the top three speaks of his quality. A horse that does that in the company he has kept tells us a lot about who he is. People were questioning about how good he was coming in and I think he answered.”
And that answer might just be…best ever at Churchill Downs.