There was no drama this time for Maximum Security, the 2019 champion 3-year-old male who’s been in the headlines more than once for all the wrong reasons.
Under Abel Cedillo and making his second start for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Gary and Mary West and the Coolmore partners’ 4-year-old colt by New Year’s Day took an early lead in the Grade 1, $500,000 Pacific Classic and never looked back, winning by three lengths over Sharp Samurai, who dogged him throughout the 1 1/4-mile contest.
Midcourt, the John Shirreffs-trained gelding who nearly upset Maximum Security in the G2 San Diego Handicap last out, finished third. Defending champion Higher Power was fourth, with Argentine runner Mirinaque fifth and Dark Vader last in the field of six older runners.
Maximum Security was the 2-5 favorite and covered 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.24 after setting fractions of :23.92, :47.98, 1:12.37 and 1:36.50.
The victory in the “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race earned Maximum Security an automatic, fees-paid berth for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be run Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
This was the 10th time in 12 career starts that Maximum Security crossed the finish line first in a race. However, he suffered the indignity of being the first horse to be disqualified from an apparent victory for interference in the G1 Kentucky Derby in 2019. Then, earlier this year, Maximum Security finished first in the inaugural running of the $20-million Saudi Cup, but the winner’s share of the purse has been held up after his previous trainer, Jason Servis, was arrested on federal charges of misbranding of drugs as part of an FBI probe into doping of racehorses.
One of the allegations against Servis is that he illegally gave Maximum Security a compounded substance prior to a race at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park in 2019. Servis has pleaded not guilty in federal court.
“I’ve got tears in my eyes; I’m so happy,” said Gary West. “He looked so comfortable out there. There were a lot of good horses in that race, especially last year’s winner (Higher Power). Sharp Samurai stuck with us. But we were best. I’m really proud of him.”
Unlike the San Diego Handicap, when Cedillo got into a tight spot early with Maximum Security, the Pacific Classic was smooth as silk. He glided to the early lead, maintained a half-length advantage over Sharp Samurai for the opening mile, then gradually pulled away down the stretch under intermittent urging. Higher Power tried to challenge the top pair in the run down the backstretch under Flavien Prat but could never get closer than a length behind the eventual winner.
Midcourt, who set the pace in the San Diego only to lose by a nose, was pocketed behind the top pair along the rail for much of the way but was never able to mount a serious rally, finishing 2 3/4 lengths behind Sharp Samurai.
“Bob told me to keep him off the rail,” said Cedillo, “because the speed was inside. If someone wanted to run up inside of us, I would have let them. He just galloped around the track. … He still had a little left at the end. I have to say this is probably the best horse I’ve ever ridden.”
“We mapped it out that he’s the quickest horse,” Baffert said, “he’s ready now and you can ride him with a lot more confidence. Once he took the lead I figured he’d be fine. I just didn’t want any quarters in 22 (seconds). ‘Max’ was relaxing really nice. He was a totally different horse today. (Cedillo) got to know ‘Max’ last time and I’m happy for him. (Maximum Security) just does things effortlessly. He wasn’t even blowing when he came back. I’m just so happy for this horse. It’s not his fault what he went through. Today he showed that he is a great horse.”
The victory was Baffert’s sixth in the Pacific Classic, putting him on even terms with the late Hall of Famer, Robert Frankel. The Pacific Classic was first run in 1991.
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