The morning after winning the first Grade 1 stakes of his career, Brendan Walsh reported cheerfully that Keeneland's Claiborne Breeders' Futurity winner Maxfield came out of Saturday's $500,000 race in far better order than his trainer.
“We did a bit of celebrating last night,” Walsh said. “But if you don't celebrate that, what do you celebrate?”
With Maxfield, now 2 for 2, it's not just saluting what was accomplished Saturday but hailing what the future holds.
Maxfield made the quantum leap from narrowly winning a Churchill Downs maiden race Sept. 14 to a dominating 5 1/2-length romp over favored Gouverneur Morris in a Grade 1 stakes at 1 1/16 miles around two turns. Maxfield also is a son of Street Sense, the first horse to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby, a feat completed in 2007.
How much is Walsh thinking about the First Saturday in May at Churchill Downs?
“Yeah, sure. I mean, we haven't really gotten our head around it yet,” he said. “But he's very exciting. We've been excited about him since he walked into the barn. So yeah, that comes to mind, too. But we'll take it step by step and go from there.”
And the next step is likely to be the $2 million TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 1 in Arcadia, Calif.
“We'll see, obviously, how he does over the next couple of weeks, but yeah, if everything is right and good, I don't see any reason why not to go,” Walsh said. “Anybody who ever looks at him, they all say how impressive he is physically, and he's got a fantastic mind. Everybody could see that yesterday (Saturday) in the paddock before. And even in the race, to run into kickback like that, like he did in his maiden as well. He does it all. He makes us look good, because you point him in the right direction and he does it. He's just a pleasure to train.
“To come back in three weeks (from his maiden race) was the question I had in my mind. I was kind of worried if it was too quick to come back with a 2-year-old. But he proved me wrong. I thought he might even need a run or two to break his maiden, and I was totally wrong there as well. Good horses do that. He's done everything right so far.”
Making the career milestone even more special for Walsh is the fact that it came for Godolphin, the racing arm of Dubai leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's global thoroughbred empire.
“I've worked for these people on and off for years, from Kildangan Stud in Ireland to Dubai with Godolphin and here,” Walsh said. “They've taken me all over the world, so they've been a huge factor in my life. To have my first Grade 1 winner for them is very special. And to have a horse like this is very special, so I couldn't express enough thanks to them.”
Maxfield was among the 2-year-olds Walsh had training all summer at Ellis Park, his first time having a string of horses at the Henderson track.
“It's a nice place to train,” Walsh said. “I think it's a good environment for a horse. Everyone says, 'Oh, it's so hot down at Ellis.' But it's hot in Louisville during the summer. But the mornings, they walk out there and it's nice and open and good fresh air, and the track is very good down there. I was pleasantly surprised by it, to be honest. It's great. It worked out well. And the 2-year-olds that were there — not just him, but we had a bunch of them down there — they all benefited from it.”
The Brad Cox-trained British Idiom, who went from a winning debut at Saratoga to a dominating victory Friday in Keeneland's Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades, spent half the summer training at Ellis Park preparing to launch her career.
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