Impressive Maxfield charges into Derby picture

Before he got hurt, Maxfield was supposed to be one of the favorites last fall for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Those bottled-up expectations were finally uncorked Saturday. And he did not disappoint.


With his triumphant return as the 3-10 favorite in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs, Maxfield affirmed the confidence that futures players have had in him for months.


But because of that betting exposure, William Hill Nevada cut his odds only from 11-1 to 10-1 to win the Kentucky Derby. Since Circa Sports just got into the futures business, it cut Maxfield from last week’s 22-1 opener to 19-2 — or + 950.


With a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 in only his third start, Maxfield is right about where a serious contender should be three months before running for the roses at Churchill Downs. Trainer Brendan Walsh has not committed him to a specific next race, though he has said he wanted to get his Street Sense colt into three 2020 preps before the Kentucky Derby. So if he stays on that timetable, maybe that means the Belmont Stakes on June 20.


If nothing else, the Godolphin homebred looked like he had come all the way back from ankle-chip surgery in November. There is no reason to believe his Derby odds will be getting longer anytime soon.


The same might not be said, though, for at least two other horses also in the consensus top five in futures betting.


New questions about medication hit trainer Bob Baffert on Tuesday. A number of reports said the Arkansas Racing Commission identified two preliminary drug tests that came back positive from Arkansas Derby day May 2 at Oaklawn Park.


Citing a knowledgeable source, the Louisville Courier-Journal said red flags came up on two of three Baffert horses. Of the three, Nadal (+ 340 at Circa, + 400 at William Hill) and Charlatan (+ 465, + 450) won the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby, and Gamine, his Kentucky Oaks contender, won an Oaklawn allowance race.


Baffert objected to preliminary test results being leaked before a split of the samples could be tested at a separate lab for a second opinion.


“The rules of the Arkansas Racing Commission mandate confidentiality until there is a written decision of the stewards,” Baffert said in a text to the media. “I am extremely disappointed that the commission has not followed its own rules on confidentiality. I am hoping for an expedited investigation and look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision.”


Because it could be weeks before second opinions come back, any doubt about whether Charlatan or Nadal would be eligible for future races might not be addressed soon. Certainly not soon enough for horseplayers. That brings into immediate question the Belmont Stakes, for which Circa Sports has said it will post prices within a week.


The long-term questions about whether Baffert’s horses will remain eligible for the Derby may color the futures market in the coming days and weeks. Then again, it is 2020. Why wouldn’t we see another complication?


Derby futures: Who’s hot?


Cezanne (25-1 at Circa, unlisted at William Hill). Baffert has not said where he will debut this colt, which Irish giant Coolmore bought 15 months ago for $3.65 million. Asked this week if he had a race in mind, his text reply said, “Kentucky Derby.” Three of Cezanne’s last four workouts at 5 furlongs were sub-:60s. XBTV analyst Millie Ball told the “Thoroughbred L.A.” radio show last weekend “he couldn’t even have blown a candle out.” Believe it or not, speculation has circulated around Santa Anita that this Curlin colt out of a Bernardini mare could make his first start in the Belmont Stakes.


Pneumatic (50-1, 75-1). Relatively untested in winning his first two races, this Uncle Mo colt from Steve Asmussen’s stable carried high expectations into his stakes debut in the Matt Winn. He lived up to most of them, finding the lead in the second turn and competing all the way to the wire before finishing third as the 5-2 second choice. Ridden for the second time by Ricardo Santana Jr., he pressed the pace more than he did in his first two starts, a sign that he has some versatility. Pneumatic joins Basin (55-1, 20-1) and Silver Prospector (85-1, 50-1) as Asmussen’s most respected Derby candidates.


Art Collector (150-1, 125-1). It took a few days, but bookmakers and bettors are reacting to this Bernardini colt’s 2¾-length triumph May 17 in a sprint allowance at Churchill Downs. He had been on turf to begin his career, breaking his maiden in his second start. But a seventh-place finish in a Grade 2 race last fall at Keeneland led trainer Tom Drury to switch him to dirt. Art Collector’s most recent win came in his 3-year-old debut after a 5½-month break. He has not proven that he is more than a one-turn specialist, but that win was enough to merit his addition this week to the Circa futures.


Derby futures: Who’s not?


Ny Traffic (50-1, 60-1). Stalking a slow pace all the way around the track, he had the lead at the top of the stretch and was poised to finish first. Yes, that was in Saturday’s Matt Winn. But that first sentence could have been written about this Cross Traffic colt’s three races. After winning for new trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. in January, Ny Traffic has developed seconditis. Or worse. He finished third in the weaker division of the Risen Star and then, with blinkers added, placed second in the Louisiana Derby and the Matt Winn. Having four jockeys in as many races could have been a question of who was available during the pandemic. But that also might make bettors wonder if they were really getting value last week when Circa opened him at 125-1. (By the way, in spite of the lowercase “y” in his name, it really is pronounced “New York Traffic.”)


Attachment Rate (90-1, 100-1). He shortened from 100-1 at Circa and drifted from 75-1 at William Hill. Still just a maiden winner, this Hard Spun colt trained by Dale Romans looks competitive, but he is regressing. Since he won by 6¼ lengths in the Gulfstream Park slop in February, he has finished third in a Grade 3 mile, second in a black-type 8½-furlong race and fourth in the 8½-furlong Matt Winn. Switching from Luis Saez to jockey John Velazquez, he still had trouble switching leads in the stretch. Maybe he is a slow learner, or maybe he is better suited to shorter distances.


Major Fed (125-1, 100-1). Well, isn’t this a fickle page? Wasn’t this colt just among the “hot” last week? A last-place finish in the Matt Winn changed that, adding $40 to his odds at both Nevada sportsbooks. The Ghostzapper colt trained by Greg Foley has had legitimate excuses. He drew Post 12 on Saturday and never overcame it. A poor start in the Louisiana Derby, a wide trip in the Risen Star and even a bumpy trip in his maiden win in January have peppered his trip notes. Faith in Major Fed still represents value, but even if his bad luck finds some balance, he still has to prove he belongs in Derby company.


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