ELMONT, N.Y. – With three graded stakes wins this year, Godolphin’s Maxfield has established himself as one of the leaders in the older horse division. On Saturday, the son of Street Sense will vie to add a Grade 1 victory to his 4-year-old campaign in the 68th running of the nine-furlong $500,000 Woodward, which returns to Belmont Park for the first time since 2005.
The Woodward is one of two Grade 1, $500,000 events on Saturday’s card along with the Champagne for 2-year-olds running one mile in a prestigious race, affording a spot in the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to the winner. The lucrative card is bolstered by the Grade 3, $200,000 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational for 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs on the grass along with the Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo, a 1 1/16-mile turf test for juvenile fillies.
Previously held at Saratoga Race Course, the Woodward was inaugurated in 1954 at Belmont Park and also was run several times at Aqueduct before being moved to Saratoga.
Maxfield, who boasts a consistent 9-7-1-1 record with over $1.45 million in earnings, arrives off a runner-up effort to Knicks Go in the Grade 1 Whitney on August 7 at Saratoga. Trainer Brendan Walsh saddled the 4-year-old son of Street Sense to back-to-back scores in the Alysheba [105 Beyer] on April 30 and Stephen Foster [103 Beyer] on June 26, both Grade 2 events at Churchill Downs.
A winner on debut going a one-turn mile in September 2019 at Churchill Downs, Maxfield became a Grade 1 winner in his second career start when capturing the Breeders’ Futurity going two turns at Keeneland, where he made up nearly ten lengths from ninth to win by 5 ½ lengths – his largest margin of victory to date.
Walsh said earning a Grade 1 triumph as an older horse is crucial for Maxfield.
“It’s absolutely important, especially with a horse like him, who we always thought would get better as he gets older,” Walsh said. “For his stallion career and everything, it would be very important to get a Grade 1 win in him this year.”
Lightly raced for a horse of his level, Maxfield has done the bulk of his racing this year having raced a cumulative four times at ages two and three, all of which were wins. He kicked off a successful year with a 3 ¼-length win in the Grade 3 Mineshaft in February at Fair Grounds before suffering his first loss in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap three weeks later.
“I think it all has helped. Thinking back at this point last year, this horse had only run three times in his career and he was about to turn four,” Walsh said. “We’ve always been on the back foot as far as seasoning and racing experience goes. I think we saw an advance on him in the Whitney because he ran right through the wire, which I was pleased to see him do. It all bodes well for the races ahead.”
Walsh expressed no concern with cutting back to one-turn from the two-turn Whitney.
“I think it suits him if anything,” Walsh said. “He should love the sweeping turns here. He seems to run his turns very well, which is probably the strongest part of his races. A big horse like him with a big stride on him, I can’t see why it wouldn’t be to his advantage more than anything.”
Walsh, who previously worked for Godolphin as an assistant trainer in Dubai, spoke volumes of the world-class breeding and racing operation.
“They’ve been a big influence on my career,” Walsh said. “It’s just a privilege to train for them and an even greater privilege to have a horse of this caliber for them in such a great year. Hopefully, we can keep it going for the next couple of months and make it even better.”
Maxfield will race with blinkers on for the Woodward, and will be piloted by regular rider Jose Ortiz from post 2.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will saddle a pair of top contenders in Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector and Don Alberto Stable’s Forza Di Oro.
Art Collector has matched up 103 Beyers in his last two starts at nine furlongs, capturing the Alydar on August 6 at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on August 27. A seven-time winner from 14 starts, Art Collector has banked more than $1.2 million. Art Collector is a 4-year-old son of Bernardini, who sired previous Woodward victors To Honor and Serve  and Alpha .
Art Collector burst onto the scene during his sophomore campaign with victories in the Grade 2 Blue Grass last July at Keeneland and the Ellis Park Derby one month later for his former trainer Tommy Drury, Jr.
Art Collector arrives off a half-mile breeze in 49.49 seconds on September 25 over the Oklahoma training track.
“He looked good and smooth in his last work,” said Mott, who previously won the Woodward with Hall of Famer Cigar [1995-96], To Honor and Serve  and Yoshida . “He’s made no mistakes so far. He looks great and the horse is doing very well. We’re very pleased with him.”
Forza Di Oro, a 4-year-old Speightstown chestnut, sports a ledger of 7-4-1-1 led by a score in the Grade 3 Discovery in November at the Big A. Last out, Forza Di Oro finished a pacesetting third in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 4 at Saratoga.
“It could have been the distance. We were concerned about that going in,” Mott said. “He’s capable of a different running style. We’ll leave that up to the jock.”
Luis Saez returns aboard Art Collector from post 3, while Junior Alvarado will ride Forza Di Oro from post 6.
A victory from dual Grade 1-winner Code of Honor would give the Farish family their first Woodward win since Mineshaft in 2003. Last out, the 5-year-old homebred son of Noble Mission made his first start off a seven-month layoff a triumphant one in capturing the Grade 3 Phillip H. Iselin on August 21 at Monmouth Park, garnering a 105 Beyer.
Code of Honor boasts field-best lifetime earnings in excess of $2.8 million through a 17-7-4-2 record, highlighted by 2019 triumphs in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers and Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup during his 3-year-old season.
“He’s training as good as he could – as good as I’ve ever seen him,” McGaughey said. “I think two turns is probably better, but the mile and an eighth is fine. I think the way he’s training right now, he’s sharp and he’ll be laying in the right spot to wait and make a move.”
Paco Lopez, aboard for his last out Iselin score, will return to the irons from post 5.
St. Elias Stable’s Dr Post will attempt his first Grade 1 victory for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
The son of 2010 Woodward winner Quality Road arrives off a third in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on August 21 at Del Mar, where he considerably advanced position in the last two points of call coming from seventh to complete the trifecta. Piloted by Joel Rosario, Dr Post appeared to be losing considerable ground around the far turn.
“In the middle part of the race, he sort of backed up on us and came with a good solid late run,” Pletcher said. “Joel seemed to think that maybe he was struggling with the track a little bit in the middle part of the race for some reason. He seemed to get a hold of it well late in the race, but just put himself in a tough spot with too much to do. It wasn’t a bad race by any means.”
Dr Post displayed a successful seasonal commencement when capturing the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont on May 1 before taking the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup on July 17 two starts later.
Dr Post will race with blinkers in the Woodward, as he did in his previous two starts.
“After the first time, I thought they moved him up quite a bit, but they didn’t seem to have the same effect the second time, or at least the middle part of the race,” Pletcher said. “We’ll leave them on to keep him focused.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., who piloted Dr Post to his first stakes win in the Unbridled last April at Gulfstream Park and a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes last year, will be reunited with the four-time winner from the inside post.
Completing the field is Knight R.B. Stables’ Mo Gotcha, a five-time winning 5-year-old son of Uncle Mo. Trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul claimed Mo Gotcha two starts back for $40,000 following a victory via disqualification on September 2 at the Spa and arrives off a third-place finish in his stakes debut in the Grand Prix American Jockey Club on September 18.
Returning pilot Jalon Samuel will ride from post 4.
The Woodward is slated as Race 10 on Saturday’s 11-race card. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
The prestigious event for older horses honors William Woodward, who was chairman of the Jockey Club 1930-50. Woodward also owned Bel Air Stud who campaigned father-son Triple Crown-winning pair of Gallant Fox and Omaha. Since its inception, the Woodward has been won by all-time greats Sword Dancer [1959-60], Kelso [1961-63], Buckpasser , Damascus  and Forego, who won four consecutive runnings from 1974-77. More recent prominent winners of the Woodward include Skip Away , Mineshaft , Ghostzapper , Saint Liam , Curlin , Rachel Alexandra , Havre de Grace  and Gun Runner  whose Woodward victories would help cement Horse of the Year honors in their respective years.
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Photo: Maxfield gets a workout at Belmont September 24 under Jose Ortiz. (Janet Garaguso)