By Richard Rosenblatt
It figured Maximum Security would get himself involved in a wild and woolly finish, and this time he made a winning move to the inside of Mucho Gusto as he went on to victory in the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Saturday night.
What a 4-year-old debut for the champion 3-year-old, and what a race of redemption for the disqualified Kentucky Derby winner in capturing the world’s richest race more than 7,000 miles away from that mind-boggling day Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
With a full field of 14 global stars, it was trainer Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto who emerged with the lead. North America, Maximum Security and Capezzano were in close pursuit. Entering the far turn, jockey Luis Saez maneuvered Maximum Security into striking position.
Then, as usual with Maximum Security, the fun began. Eclipse Award-winner Irad Ortiz, Jr., aboard Pegasus (G1) winner Mucho Gusto, traced a somewhat erratic path down the middle of the stretch, seemingly thwarting Maximum Security from getting in front.
Saez, however, finally guided Maximum Security to the inside and he took the lead, and then held late-closing fellow champion, 5-year-old mare Midnight Bisou, by three-quarters of a length.
Benbatl finished third, with Mucho Gusto fourth and Tacitus fifth in the Saudi Cup run on dirt at 1 1/8 miles. The next two finishers were Japan-based Gold Dream and Chrysoberyl, with Magic Wand ninth and Baffert’s McKinzie 11th.
Saez, who showed so much class after learning of Maximum Security’s DQ for interference in the Derby, punched the air after crossing the finish line. He was greeted with a few fist bumps by the outriders as they lead the victors to the winner’s circle.
Trainer Jason Servis broke into a big smile, hugged Saez, but was short on words … “This will take a week to set in. I just got to thank (owner) Gary West because he wanted to come here.”
And why not? The winner’s share of the purse is $10 million for owners Gary and Mary West, and new partners Coolmore, with runner-up Midnight Bisou earning $3.5 million for Bloom Racing Stables and Madaket Stables.
“It was amazing!’’ Saez said. “He came here and showed he’s the best. He broke so perfect. The horse in front of me carried me out, but we ducked inside.”
The drama in the stretch, with Mucho Gusto drifting out while Maximum Security was trying to find racing room before moving to the inside, now seems typical of a race involving the battling colt.
“I don’t want to say too much,” Saez said about the stretch run. “I’m just glad we won the race.”
Servis put it a little more succinctly: “I was a little upset with Irad Ortiz. He carried me out in the stretch and then came down on me. But that’s for another day.”
Added Baffert: “I thought he had it. He just got a little short at the end. I think the track was better out in the middle and Irad was just trying to get there.”
Maximum Security endured all kinds of crazy setbacks in 2019, from the Derby DQ to 17th after finishing first, to a scary bout of colic, to skipping a slew of top races.
He won three Grade 1’s – the Florida Derby, Haskell Invitational and the Cigar Mile in his most recent start before the Saudi Cup.
Through 10 career races, only one horse has finished in front of Maximum Security. And that was King for a Day by one length in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 16 in Max’s first start since the Derby.
There is no legal wagering in Saudi Arabia, but Maximum Security was the favorite in most places where betting on the race took place. The colt was 2-1 at usracing.com
Next up for Maximum Security and likely Midnight Bisou is the $12 million Dubai World Cup next month.