June 19, 2024

Maxfield stars on stakes-packed Santa Anita Handicap card

Maxfield wins the Mineshaft Stakes (Hodges Photography)

Five starts, five victories. The delicate, but supremely talented Maxfield has never tasted defeat in a career dotted with layoffs. On Saturday, he’ll seek his biggest win to date in the historic $400,000 Santa Anita H. (G1) racing 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita.

Under the patient care of trainer Brendan Walsh, Maxfield has thrived against tough competition, repeatedly unleashing powerful rallies to win such significant prizes as the 2019 Breeders’ Futurity (G1), 2020 Matt Winn (G3), and 2021 Mineshaft (G3). With his unblemished resume and encouraging recent form, Maxfield will tote top weight of 124 pounds in the “Big ‘Cap,” even while stretching out beyond 1 1/16 miles for the first time

Chief among the challengers to the Godolphin homebred is Express Train, fresh off a decisive victory in the San Pasqual (G2). The improving John Shirreffs trainee has shown versatility in terms of running style and has run faster than Maxfield on the Brisnet Speed rating scale, suggesting Express Train can give the undefeated favorite a real for the money.

Kiss Today Goodbye and Idol, who finished first and second in the San Antonio (G2) on opening day of the Santa Anita meet, will be joined by Pegasus World Cup (G1) third-place runner Independence Hall and San Pasqual runner-up Tizamagician to complete the local contingent. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner King Guillermo and Clark H. (G1) fourth-place finisher Coastal Defense are shipping in from the East Coast to round out the field.

The Santa Anita H. is’’t the only Grade 1 race taking place on Saturday at Santa Anita. Turf milers will get their chance to shine in $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), which drew a competitive 10-horse field shaping up to be another East vs. West showdown.

Out-of-state shippers have the edge from a numbers standpoint. Tropical Turf (G3) 1-2-5 finishers Ride a Comet, Casa Creed, and Flying Scotsman will be joined by Poker (G3) winner Social Paranoia and the Chad Brown trainees Spirit Animal and Flavius, the latter victorious against a strong field in the Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs last September.

But the local team, though smaller, is no less formidable. The speedy Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) winner Smooth Like Strait and the powerful Thunder Road (G3) winner Hit the Road enter in career-best form, while Count Again has already defeated Spirit Animal and Flavius, trumping them both with a strong rally in the Seabiscuit H. (G2) last fall. Throw in Brazilian Group 1 winner Royal Ship, and the West Coast contingent can’t be counted out.

Also on Saturday is the $200,000 San Carlos S. (G2) for older horses sprinting seven furlongs on the main track. It’s an exclusively local show with nine Californians in the mix, including 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Storm the Court. The son of Court Vision hasn’t sprinted in more than a year, but he’s been training sharply and picks up Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, setting the stage for a competitive effort.

Storm the Court isn’t the only runner cutting back in distance for the San Carlos. Native Diver (G3) winner Extra Hope and two-time Keeneland allowance winner Major Cabbie will employ the same tactics while hoping to rebound off disappointing efforts running long.

But they’ve picked a tough spot to try their luck at sprinting. Don Valpredo California Cup Sprint S. 1-2-4 finishers Brickyard Ride, Tigre Di Slugo, and Loud Mouth are all tried-and-true dashers with strong recent form, and they’re unlikely to go down without a fight. Exaulted was a sharp allowance winner over this track and distance on Feb. 12, while Strongconstitution and Manhattan Up are both graded stakes-placed sprinters capable of factoring on their best day.

The Saturday card kicks off at 3:00 p.m. ET and features 11 races overall, including the San Felipe (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Fans can watch and wager on the action at TwinSpires.com.