Flurry of Derby interest surrounds Maxfield

Even with so much time left until the Kentucky Derby, it does not take much to move the futures market in a way that looks less like adjusting and more like genuflecting.


In an otherwise slow week, it was reported that Maxfield will be returning from injury and racing this month in a Derby points prep at Churchill Downs.


Trainer Brendan Walsh said last week that his Godolphin colt, who won his only two races last year, had recovered from ankle-chip surgery and would be entered in the $150,000 Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes on May 23. Originally announced to be worth 10 qualifying points, the race is now worth 50 points to the winner, meaning it could be an automatic qualifier for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby.


The news sent Maxfield’s odds in the Derby futures at William Hill Nevada from 12-1 to 11-1. A modest adjustment, yes. But it continues a pendulum-like market reaction for a horse who in eight months of racing has put together a sample size that totals only 3½ minutes.


Consider his timeline, with his William Hill futures odds in parentheses:


Sept. 14: Going off at 10-1, Maxfield closed from dead last, picked off all nine rivals and won his debut by three-quarters of a length in a mile race for maidens at Churchill Downs.


Oct. 5: Carrying post-time odds of 6-1 he won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland by 5½ lengths over Gouverneur Morris and Enforceable, two other colts who still have Derby aspirations. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 87.


Oct. 29 (12-1): The day William Hill made him the third choice in its opening Derby futures, Maxfield was scratched from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Some overseas markets had him as short as a 5-2 favorite to win the Nov. 1 race at Santa Anita. The extent of his injury was not disclosed.


Nov. 18 (12-1): According to the Godolphin website, Maxfield had a “mildly displaced” ankle chip surgically removed by Dr. Larry Bramlage in Kentucky. He was expected to be out of training for 60 days.


Jan. 20 (10-1): It took a couple of weeks, but the odds eventually moved on Walsh’s declaration that Maxfield was on a farm and recovering on schedule.


Feb. 7 (20-1): Maxfield’s absence from the work tab reached 105 days.


Feb. 17 (10-1): Guess who had his first 3-furlong breeze at Palm Meadows?


March 8 (15-1): A week earlier Walsh said, “I don’t know if we’d throw him to the wolves off the layoff in something like the Florida Derby.” He suggested Maxfield might not take on a Derby prep and could be aimed instead for the Preakness.


March 17 (9-1): It had been five days since Churchill Downs postponed the Kentucky Derby because of the coronavirus, giving Maxfield four extra months to be ready. Optimism was reflected in the futures market.


March 31 (20-1): After putting in timed workouts five weeks in a row, Maxfield was absent from the tab as he was being shipped from South Florida. Instead of being where races were still being run, he was on his way to Keeneland, where the spring meet had been canceled. His odds were as long as ever.


April 4 (9-1): With plans to start working out at Keeneland, bettors were clearly jumping onto the Maxfield bandwagon, making his odds shorter than ever.


May 12 (11-1): During the week since Walsh said the rescheduled Matt Winn would be the new target, Maxfield’s odds fluctuated between 10-1 and 12-1.


All this happened without Maxfield having so much as a single start since Oct. 5. With Risen Star runner-up Major Fed and Oaklawn Stakes surprise Mr. Big News also expected to race the 8½ furlongs of the Matt Winn, who knows what an impressive victory — or a disappointing performance — might do to the odds?


Derby futures: Who’s hot?


Structor (60-1 at William Hill Nevada). Recovering from what turned out to be a throat operation during the winter, the 3-for-3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner had a 39.0-second breeze over 3 furlongs Friday at Stonestreet Training in Ocala, Fla. That was his first timed work since Feb. 17, when the colt by Palace Malice out of a More Than Ready mare was still being aimed for the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Chad Brown has not yet rescheduled the 3-year-old debut for Structor, whose odds have not moved since they were cut from 75-1 after the Derby was postponed. As with Maxfield, there is not much of a sample with which to work, so any bet may be left to faith.


Farmington Road (60-1). This looks more like a reassessment of his fourth-place finish to Nadal on May 2 in the better of the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby. On the one hand, he made up five places closing from last in the field of nine. On the other, he actually lost a half-length of ground in finishing seven lengths behind. But he also covered the last 3 furlongs in 38.69. By comparison, Nadal did it in 38.39. To be mentioned in the same breath as one of Bob Baffert’s best may be heady, but that closing time does not a Derby winner make. If only someone had mentioned that to bettors who shortened this Todd Pletcher colt’s odds from 75-1.


Tap It To Win (125-1). Trained by newly minted Hall of Famer Mark Casse, this Tapit colt came back from a six-month break to win his 3-year-old debut Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The 1½-length victory came at 5-1 in a $41,000 sprint allowance, and it was influential in cutting his Derby odds from 200-1. But it does not erase the fact that he lost his only two stakes starts by a combined 64 lengths.


Derby futures: Who’s not?


Ny Traffic (75-1). This one is a head-scratcher. Despite a poor draw, he finished an impressive second to Wells Bayou at 26-1 odds March 21 in the Louisiana Derby. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. then gave the Cross Traffic colt some time off before returning him to weekly workouts late last month at Gulfstream Park. Joseph said he had not picked a next race because there is no urgency. Ny Traffic already has 50 prep points, which might be enough to qualify him for the Derby. He was 60-1 until last week. Is it too soon to go value hunting here?


Flute Maker (no longer listed). He had been 250-1 before he finished fourth Friday in a 1-mile claiming race at Gulfstream Park. The fact that trainer Ken McPeek had him in for a $25,000 tag was telling. It was the Sky Mesa colt’s first race since he finished a flat seventh last September in the Grade 3 Iroquois, the first points prep on the Derby calendar. No one claimed Flute Maker, so he remains in McPeek’s barn — but nowhere near the Triple Crown trail.


British Idiom. OK, this is not a Derby future. The 2019 champion juvenile filly has been among the favorites in global betting for the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks. But trainer Brad Cox told the Blood-Horse she suffered a chip to her right front ankle and will be sidelined at least two months. Cox said she might be aimed to return this fall, so that would seem to preclude a run for the lilies. Yet British Idiom’s best price actually shortened to 12-1, according to the European betting monitor Oddschecker, so maybe some whale out there bet a few pounds thinking she is a fast healer.


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