MAXFIELD will be making his first West Coast appearance when he runs in Saturday's $300K Santa Anita Handicap. He puts his five-race win streak on the line, and is the likely morning line favorite. But he will have his heels full with this competitive field; arguably the toughest he's ever faced.
The Santa Anita Handicap, or "Big Cap", will be MAXFIELD's third start off a seven-month layoff. We last saw him at the Fair Grounds winning the Mineshaft Stakes rather easily. He earned his highest speed figure without being fully stretched. He may be sitting on a peak performance.
MAXFIELD's last workout at Fair Grounds was a 4F breeze in :49.20. We need not worry about his lack of bullet works; it's enough that he's breezing consistently and winning races on the track. Plus, he's been injured over his workouts so perhaps training lightly is to his best advantage.
By virtue of figures, MAXFIELD tops this field. But let us not overlook EXPRESS TRAIN, the son of UNION RAGS, from the John Shirreffs barn.
EXPRESS TRAIN posted his highest speed figure at Santa Anita last year. It was only a point below MAXFIELD's highest figure. We last saw EXPRESS TRAIN winning the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) earlier last month, followed by his second-place finish to the talented CHARLATAN in the RunHappy Malibu Stakes (G1).
EXPRESS TRAIN should enjoy every furlong of this classic, one mile and one-quarter distance. He's bred to go longer and might go off at a generous price - as sentimental betting money floods to MAXFIELD.
One charge levelled at MAXFIELD is that he has been facing weaker competition, and that it's time to step up and race against tougher. Well, he'll be doing exactly that on Saturday. He'll face horses coming from the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and the San Pasqual Stakes (G2). But let's not take the attitude that MAXFIELD has raced against total nobodies. In the Matt Winn Stakes, MAXFIELD beat ATTACHMENT RATE, who returned to win an allowance race at Gulfstream Park recently. In the Tenacious D Stakes, he beat CAPTIVATING MOON, who returned to win the Fair Grounds Stakes (G3), albeit over the turf.
Another point to consider about MAXFIELD is, does he even need to win on Saturday or can he simply be tuned-up for his next start?
If he wins on Saturday, or at least runs well enough, he may be immediately shipped to Dubai for the $12 million World Cup.
West Coast Triple Crown
Another scenario is possible for MAXFIELD. If he wins Saturday's Big Cap, then he's in the running for what we might call the "West Coast Triple Crown". Basically, Santa Anita unveiled a three-race series, all of them Grade 1s, wherein the horse who sweeps all three would receive a $1 million bonus. These races are:
The $400K Santa Anita Handicap, 1 ¼ miles - March 6
The $300K Hollywood Gold Cup, 1 ¼ miles - May 31
The $750K Pacific Classic, 1 ¼ miles - August 21
Yes, it might be ambitious to squeeze in the March 27th Dubai World Cup into that tight schedule, so we'll have to wait and see how MAXFIELD exits his races. Let's not forget he's considerably prone to injury. Brendan Walsh has done a terrific job at being patient with his horse and picking the best spots. It's no accident MAXFIELD is 5-for-5 and not even fully cranked.