Dubai: Could Maxfield be the horse that Godolphin have been waiting for for over 25 years? Will he be the one to win the one race Godolphin have coveted more than any else in the world — The Kentucky Derby?
Winning races like the Kentucky Derby are usually the stuff of dreams — unbelievable anecdotes, tales of the unexpected from some Roald Dahl story.
It is no exaggeration to say that the American showpiece, first held in 1875 at Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville and which is the longest-running sports event in the United States, is one of the most difficult races of its kind.
It is significantly different to other races, even the great Epsom Derby. And not just because that it is run on a different surface (dirt) compared to other famous turf races.
The Kentucky Derby represents the biggest challenge for breeder, trainer, jockey and owner. With the three-year-olds still maturing, both physically and mentally, it calls for a very well thought out plan to ensure that you get your horse to Churchill Downs 100 per cent fit and at the very top of his game. If you don’t, you would have compromised the circumstances in which the testing 2,000 metre contest is run.
There are all sorts of factors that weigh in favour, or out, for a Derby contender — the pedigree, ability, maturity and learning process.
So does Maxfield tick all these boxes?
At this point of time, I’m not sure, and don’t intend to jump to too many false conclusions.
But yes, he is certainly a horse that has the profile, and backing, to give His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and his Godolphin stable a first ever success in the ‘Run for the Roses’.
And you need luck — plenty of luck.
It is here that Maxfield has earned his first points, which is perhaps an ominous sign for the future.
The postponement of the race from the first week of May to September 5 is a big bonus for Brendan Walsh’s trainee who has fortunately had more time to recovery from surgery that prematurely ended his two-year-old season last year.
The Darley-bred colt’s performance in the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) on Saturday proved beyond doubt that he has made a full recovery and trained on into a fine equine athlete worthy of a shot at the Kentucky Derby.
But, before that, there are several options that are open to Walsh and Sheikh Mohammed.
Does he run in the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 20 in New York next or the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) on at Keeneland on July 11?
Both races are key preps for the Derby and could offer crucial clues to Maxfield’s real capabilities.
Knowing Walsh, an Irishman who has worked with the Kildangan Stud under the late, great Michael Osborne, who helped formalise professional racing in Dubai and the UAE in the early 90s, and then with trainer Dhruba Selvaratnam at the Jebel Ali Stables as a work rider and travelling headman before he found a home with Godolphin.
However, Walsh always nursed ambitions of going it on his own so he relocated from Dubai to the US where he spends the winter months shuttling between Florida and New Orleans.
I remember him as a polite, accomplished, and friendly person.
He played a pivotal role in the success of one of Jebel Ali’s all-time greats, the star sprinter Mudallel who won the Nad Al Sheba Sprint (presently Dubai Golden Shaheen) in 1998.
Just last year in March Walsh returned to his old home in Dubai with a horse called Plus Que Parfait, who won the UAE Derby.
Walsh’s former wife, Kathy Brunton, was the secretary at Jebel Ali Stables before joining Godolphin as a member of Godolphin Gallery team.