By Richard Rosenblatt
Just over a year ago, trainer Brendan Walsh returned to Dubai and looked on with pride as his promising 3-year-old Plus Que Parfait won the $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2) to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
A few months later, the Irishman gave a leg up to jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., on Plus Que Parfait and experienced his first Run for the Roses. His horse, sent off at 57-1, got as close as fifth with a quarter-mile to go, but faded to ninth and was elevated to eighth after first-place finisher Maximum Security was disqualified to 17th for interference.
Walsh, a former work rider for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin racing operation, was over the moon.
“I’m thrilled with him. I thought he ran his heart out,’’ Walsh said after the race. “I couldn’t ask for anything more. He had as good a trip as you’re probably going to get. He’s not beaten very far at all and went all the way to Dubai and came back and ran his race. For a second, (I) thought it could maybe happen and he gave me a thrill. He showed he could run with these horses.”
And Walsh, 10 years into his training career, showed he can keep up with the big boys on the Triple Crown trail. In 2017, he sent out Multiplier in the Preakness (sixth) and the Belmont Stakes (10th). And now, it looks like he’s dealing with a legitimate Derby contender (not to mention Belmont Stakes and Preakness) in Maxfield.
As a 2-year-old, Maxfield was 2-for-2 and gave Walsh his first Grade 1 victory by taking the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. The son of 2007 Derby winner Street
Sense was sidelined with an ankle injury, missed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), but made a triumphant return last Saturday in the $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs. And wouldn’t you know it, the colt is owned by Godolphin.
Maxfield is back, and with a restructured Triple Crown – Belmont (June 20), Derby (Sept. 5) and Preakness (Oct. 3) – he’s under consideration for an unprecedented run in the Classics.
“I have just been thinking all along to go one race at a time with this colt,” Walsh said a day after the Matt Winn. “We’ll talk it over with the Godolphin team and plan for our next target whatever that may be.”
With a total of 60 Derby-qualifying points, Maxfield has likely clinched a spot in the race, and moves up to No. 3 in the latest usracing.com/news Derby Top 10.
Nadal, winner of the second division of the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2, remains No. 1, with Florida Derby (G1) winner Tiz the Law up a notch to No. 2.
Charlatan, winner of the first division of the Arkansas Derby, drops to No. 5 for now due to a banned substance issue looming that could derail any Triple Crown race options.
Authentic, also unbeaten, remains No. 4 as he preps for the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on June 6. Two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert trains Nadal, Charlatan and Authentic.
Here’s my Top 10:
1. Nadal (Bob Baffert, Joel Rosario)
All signs are go after a 4-furlong, 48.00 work at Santa Anita on May 20, fastest of 35 at the distance … With Belmont in three weeks, he’s the likely favorite to take first leg of Triple Crown … 4-0 record includes wins in Arkansas Derby, San Vicente, and Rebel (G2) … No. 1 on points leaderboard (150) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 9-1.
2. Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg, Manny Franco)
Worked 5 furlongs in 59.75 at Palm Meadows on May 24, with Tagg saying he plans another workout in Florida on Sunday before heading back to New York … Florida Derby winner has four wins in five career starts … No. 2 on points leaderboard (122) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 5-1.
3. Maxfield (Brendan Walsh, Jose Ortiz)
What a return after more than seven months between races! Won Matt Winn with a strong finish to improve to 3-0 … Earned 50 Derby-qualifying points with victory … Belmont Stakes could be next, but it Derby seems to be the ultimate goal in shuffled Triple Crown schedule … No. 8 on Derby points leaderboard (60) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 (possible) … Derby Future Wager Odds: 9-1.
4. Authentic (Bob Baffert, Drayden Van Dyke)
Worked 6 furlongs in a 1:12 at Santa Anita on May 24 … Won San Felipe gate-to-wire and is 3-for-3 … No. 10 on points leaderboard (60) … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, June 6 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 10-1.
5. Charlatan (Bob Baffert, Martin Garcia)
Status up in the air as officials look at possible substance issue involving Arkansas Derby, which could cause a DQ and ruling that knocks unbeaten colt off Triple Crown trail … Garcia subbed for Drayden Van Dyke in Arkansas Derby, so rider remains unsettled … 3-for-3 by a combined 22 lengths … No. 4 on points leaderboard (100) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 (possible) … Derby Future Wager Odds: 5-1.
6. Honor A.P. (John Shirreffs, Mike Smith)
Worked 5 furlongs in 59.20 at Santa Anita on May 22 … Working well, but hard to say if he’ll still be worthy of top 10 status until watching his next race … Ran solid second to Authentic in San Felipe on March 7 in third career start … No. 24 on points leaderboard (20) … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, June 6 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 15-1.
7. King Guillermo (Juan Alvia, Samy Camacho)
A late Triple Crown nomination, son of Uncle Mo is owned by former baseball star Victor Martinez … A closer who was the long shot winner of the Tampa Bay Derby and runner-up to Nadal in Arkansas Derby … Passing on shortened Belmont (1 1/8 miles) with likely goal Kentucky Derby at 1 ¼ miles … No. 5 on points leaderboard (90) … Next start: TBD … Derby Future Wager Odds: 36-1.
8. Basin (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana, Jr.)
Basin has given trainer cause for confidence after his distant second to Charlatan in Arkansas Derby … Had been third in the Rebel and fourth in the Oaklawn Stakes in previous two races … No. 11 on points leaderboard (50) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 56-1
9. Gouverneur Morris (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez)
Could be one of three Pletcher horses in the Belmont … Closed nicely to finish a neck behind runner-up Basin in Arkansas Derby won easily by Charlatan … 2-1-1 in five starts for Hall of Fame trainer and jockey and should like the shorter Belmont distance … No. 14 on points leaderboard (34) … Next start: Belmont Stakes, June 20 … Derby Future Odds: 31-1
10. Ny Traffic (Saffie Joseph, Jr., Paco Lopez)
Gray colt has yet to win a stakes race, but he’s coming close, finishing second in both the Louisiana Derby (to Wells Bayou) at 26-1 odds, and second in the Matt Winn (to Maxfield) at 3-1 odds. No. 8 on points leaderboard (70) … Next start: Blue Grass, Keeneland, July 11 (possible) … Derby Future Wager Odds: 71-1.
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