By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Guess what? We're three
weeks into the month of May, and the Road to the Kentucky Derby is about to
heat back up!
We're heading into uncharted
territory as the restructured series continues on Saturday with the $150,000 Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill
Downs. Historically, the 1 1/16-mile race has been held in mid-June as a target
for late-developing 3-year-olds and Kentucky Derby veterans. But with the
postponement of the 2020 Derby, the Matt Winn now stands as a steppingstone
toward the Run for the Roses, offering 50 qualification points to the winner.
The result has been a
significant boost to the profile of the race. The 2020 Matt Winn has attracted
a dozen entries, including a pair of promising Godolphin homebreds with the
potential to shine this summer.
First and foremost is #10 Maxfield, a heralded Grade 1 winner
conditioned by Brendan Walsh. A son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense
out of a mare by 2006 Preakness champion Bernardini, Maxfield is bred like a
Triple Crown contender from top to bottom. Even better, Maxfield has talent to
go along with his regal lineage, as he demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt
when going 2-for-2 during an abbreviated juvenile season.
Maxfield kicked off his
career on a promising note when rallying to victory in a 1-mile maiden race at
Churchill Downs, counting future Rebel (G2) runner-up Excession among his
beaten rivals, but this effort was nothing compared to Maxfield's demolition of
the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. Reserved in ninth place for most of
the journey, Maxfield blew past the leaders with a stunning sweep around the
far turn, then sustained his rally down the homestretch to dominate by 5 1/2
lengths. Finishing behind Maxfield were Gouverneur Morris, Enforceable, and
Ajaaweed, three runners who have returned to win or place in Road to the
Kentucky Derby prep races.
Unfortunately, Maxfield missed
a start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) due to an ankle chip, which required
surgery and time on the sidelines. As a result, Maxfield will enter the Matt
Winn off a 7 1/2-month layoff, and while he's trained sharply for his return—most
notably breezing a bullet five furlongs from the Keeneland starting gate in :59
1/5—he's favored at 5-2 on the morning line and figures to dip down even lower
by post time. Maxfield can absolutely win if he brings his A-game, and Walsh
strikes at a 20% rate with runners returning from long layoffs, but I'm not sure
Maxfield offers much value in the win pool.
Instead, I'm excited to play
Maxfield's stablemate #1 Mystic Guide,
a maiden winner with a world of potential. From a pedigree perspective, Mystic
Guide is a blueblood bred to improve with experience and maturity—he's a son of
2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper out of the A.P. Indy mare Music Note, a
five-time Grade 1 winner over distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles.
The fact Mystic Guide is
bred to improve down the road makes the early potential he's shown all the more
impressive. A poor start and a wide trip prevented Mystic Guide from winning
his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds, but the Michael Stidham
trainee was nevertheless closing ground down the lane, rallying to finish third
by 1 1/4 lengths.
Suffice to say, Mystic Guide
showed substantial improvement when stretching out around two turns for a 1 1/16-mile
maiden race on Mar. 21 at Fair Grounds. After settling about three lengths off
the lead through fractions of :24.07, :48.59, and 1:13.37, Mystic Guide swept
to the front on the far turn and drew clear with power and authority in the homestretch,
winning by five lengths in 1:43.66.
Mystic Guide's eye-catching
finish was reflected by the clock—he sprinted the final five-sixteenths in
about :30 flat, an excellent fraction for a dirt race. Visually speaking,
Mystic Guide appeared to be full of run and just getting started, so no matter
how you slice it this was a huge effort.
I'm optimistic Mystic Guide
can take another step forward in the Matt Winn. Breaking from the rail sets up
the potential for a ground-saving journey under experienced Churchill Downs
rider Brian Hernandez, and Mystic Guide should have enough tactical speed to
stay reasonably close to the pace. With a bit of luck, Mystic Guide can get the
jump on Maxfield and hold off his stablemate down the homestretch. I doubt
Mystic Guide's 15-1 morning line odds will hold up, but even 5-1 would be a
nice price on this promising prospect.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Matt Winn Stakes?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.