What we learned: Maxfield's gate speed key to improvement

What we learned: Maxfield's gate speed key to improvement
Photo: Coady Photography

Maxfield captured Saturady's Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs with a relentless stretch run, mowing down both Ny Traffic and Pneumatic. In victory, he reestablished himself as one of the top horses in the 3-year-old crop.

Moving forward, the question of whether Maxfield can defeat the tested type of horses such as Nadal and Tiz the Law, the early 2020 Kentucky Derby favorites. Regardless, there are a few points to make about Maxfield’s winning effort that bode well for him.

To start, Maxfield won this Derby prep race off the bench. He will need to improve to capture races at the Grade 1 level again. But considering he won this race and most horses improve in their second or third start back, the likelihood that Maxfield will get better is high.

Also, after a good break Maxfield flashed a bit more speed this time than in his prior two races at age 2, sitting only three lengths or less behind the pace set by Celtic Striker.

Granted, the moderate 23.98-second opening quarter and 48.21-second half mile helped him stay closer, running eighth up the back stretch in a compact field. But it is still a good sign to see him get away well and blend with the midpack runners. In his two races last fall, Maxfield lagged eight to nine lengths off the lead before closing for the two wins.

In terms of the Kentucky Derby, lagging at the rear in a 20-horse field isn't ideal considering the high probability of traffic and pace concerns. For instance, see how the normally deep-closing Country House settled closer to the pace than usual en route to crossing the wire second last year before moving up due Maximum Security’s disqualification.

Maxfield's early running position Saturday gave at least some evidence of that needed versatility. Settling in mid-pack rather than closing from far back will only increase his chances to capture the Run for the Roses.

The third point to note about Maxfield’s win is that he beat some good horses in Ny Traffic and Pneumatic, with the latter a promising colt also making just his third start and stakes debut.

Ny Traffic owns a third in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and second in the Louisiana Derby (G2), making him a stakes-experienced runner with some mild success. Now he shows a second in the Matt Winn as well, giving him three in-the-money finishes at the graded stakes level.

Pneumatic took his prior allowance optional claiming start at Oaklawn Park impressively by an easy 2 ½ lengths over the stakes-experienced Captain Bombastic.

So it appears Maxfield did not beat pushovers in the Matt Winn.

Right now, it is too early to call Maxfield the top 3-year-old or a “special" horse. But with this Derby trail victory, he kept the debate going.

Owendale mows down Blame Stakes field

One race earlier, late closer Owendale also out-kicked his competition in the Blame Stakes in his 4-year-old debut.

As the cavalry charged up front, Owendale lagged toward the back and 6 ½ lengths off the leader.

Approaching the far turn, Owendale began to tip out and prepare for one big run. Once outside and in the clear, he took dead aim at the front and steadily made progress toward Everfast and Silver Dust. 

It took a while, but Owendale steadily mowed down those two runners for the win. Notably, Owendale and Everfast also finished second and third to War of Will in the Preakness last year. 

Owendale overcame a 176-day layoff. Similar to Maxfield, he will only improve moving forward now that fitness is not an issue anymore.

He also won at a distance too short for him. Although Owendale is a son of Into Mischief, he never ran like a horse that wanted just one mile. Remember, this horse is a two-time Grade 3 winner at nine furlongs.

Expect a strong second half of 2020 for Owendale.

Dunbar Road overcomes slow fractions in Shawnee Stakes

For a final note, Dunbar Road took the Shawnee Stakes earlier in the card after a strong move on the turn. But she only won by 1 ¼ lengths under a hard drive.

Given the fractions, the fact that she worked hard to beat modest competition is forgivable. The longshot Flower Party set an uncontested lead in 24.72 and 48.66. While she quit, the slow pace gave the eventual runner-up Chocolate Kisses and Awe Emma more punch late.

TimeformUS gave Dunbar Road with a 118 speed figure and also put the “p” designation on the race, indicating the sluggish pace caused the final time to end up unusually slow. In cases like this, they "break out" the final figure because the time does not reflect the winner's ability.

Expect Dunbar Road to move forward next time as well.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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