The field for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic begins to take shape in early summer after the Triple Crown races conclude and, in many ways, the road to the $6 million race begins in earnest with the Stephen Foster Stakes in June at Churchill Downs. The Foster is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Longines Classic, granting the winner a spot in the starting gate for the 1 ¼-mile Classic, which this year is held on Nov. 6 at Del Mar.
The 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, one of Churchill Downs’ most prestigious dirt races for older males, started in 1982, two years before the inaugural Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Blame in 2010 and Gun Runner in 2017 won the Stephen Foster in June during championship campaigns that were capped by a victory in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Maxfield clearly was a talented racehorse as a 2- and 3-year-old – he won all four of his starts in 2019 and 2020 for trainer Brendan Walsh – but he had trouble staying healthy and missed significant time to remove an ankle chip and then to recover from a condylar fracture to his right front cannon bone.
The comeback trail really began with his final race at 3 when he won the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds off a 6 ½-length layoff following the condylar fracture. The Street Sense colt won by 2 ½ lengths as the 1-2 favorite while posting a then-career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure.
“It’s nice to get him back and get him to run so well,” Walsh told BloodHorse after the comeback win. “He’d been working so good, you’re just hoping for confirmation, and I think he gave us that [in the Tenacious]. We needed it. Hopefully, he comes out of it okay and we’ll move forward from here.”
Maxfield showed he still had elite ability despite the injuries and, as Walsh hoped, he’s improved since then in four races as a 4-year-old in 2021.
Although he suffered his first (and to date only) loss when shipping across the country for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March, Maxfield has won each of his other three races and improved to new level as far as speed figures are concerned. When he won the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet on the Longines Kentucky Oaks undercard April 30 at Churchill, Maxfield earned eye-catching 115 Equibase Speed Figure, 105 Brisnet speed rating, and 105 Beyer Speed Figures to cement his status as a major player in the older male division. Those numbers marked a nice progression from the 111 Equibase Speed Figure, 96 Brisnet rating, and 99 Beyer figure he earned for winning his season debut in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Stakes in February.
From a speed-figure perspective, Maxfield took a slight step back (107 Equibase, 103 Beyer, 103 Brisnet) in winning the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, but he did so with contemptuous ease in a 3 ¼-length runaway while being geared down in the final furlong by jockey Jose Ortiz.
Maxfield won the Foster between three-quarters of a mile and a mile into the race with an eye-catching quarter-mile in :24.16 that was more than a half-second faster than any of the other eight runners, according to Trakus data.
Progress is not always linear with racehorses and I’m not as concerned with a minor regression 4 ½ months out from the Classic as I would be in a final prep race. The fact that Maxfield is winning and doing so impressively offers promise for the summer and fall for a racehorse who has overcome significant adversity.
It’s worth pointing out that Maxfield has shown an ability to race nearer to the front since his return in December 2020 after he looked like a pure closer early in his career.
He’ll never be a pace or press-the-pace type against real speed horses, but a bit more flexibility as far as running style can only make him more adaptable and thus more dangerous.
In theory, the major concerns for Maxfield as it pertains to the Breeders’ Cup Classic are that his lone defeat came in his first try at 1 ¼ miles in the Big ’Cap, which also was his first try shipping to the West Coast. With the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, he will need to be better in the Classic when shipping to Southern California again in the fall than he was in the Santa Anita Handicap.
For me, distance is less of a concern. He was third and beaten by only two lengths in the Santa Anita Handicap, but he wasn’t backing up late as much as he just wasn’t reeling in winner Idol.
At this point in the season, Maxfield looks like a legitimate win threat for the Classic and a potential Horse of the Year candidate.
Maxfield is from the ninth crop of Street Sense, the 2006 Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and champion 2-year-old male who went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes in 2007. A productive sire in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, Street Sense’s top U.S.-based runners include Grade 1 winners McKinzie, Sweet Reason, and Wedding Toast.
Velvety, by 2006 Preakness Stakes winner Bernardini, is the dam (mother) of Maxfield. Velvety won one of three starts in England, prevailing in her debut at about one mile and 70 yards. Maxfield’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Caress, by Storm Cat, was a graded stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles on the main track and a multiple graded stakes winner at one mile or longer on the grass. In addition to Velvety, Caress produced Grade 1 winner and sire Sky Mesa and multiple graded stakes winner Golden Velvet, the latter a multiple stakes producer.
Caress is one of four group or graded stakes winners produced by Maxfield’s third dam (maternal great-grandmother), La Affirmed, by 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed. This is a deep, classy family, and thus it’s fairly easy to see why a colt by Street Sense from this family has excelled against elite competition in two-turn races.