Champion Maximum Security Wins San Diego in First Race for Baffert
By Margaret Ransom
Gary and Mary West and Coolmore’s champion Maximum Security returned to his winning ways on Saturday, much to the delight of not only his connections but also his many fans, edging Midcourt by a nose in the $150,000 San Diego Handicap (G3) at Del Mar.
The Kentucky-bred son of New Year’s Day was also making his first start in the care of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, with jockey Abel Cedillo subbing for regular rider Luis Saez.
Nothing has ever been easy for the 2019 disqualified Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, and the San Diego was no different. Used to being in control from the break, this time he was immediately challenged by Midcourt and jockey Victor Espinoza to his outside. By the time he made it around the clubhouse turn, he was sitting second, two lengths back.
Soon after Midcourt logged the opening quarter in 23.74, Higher Power and Flavien Prat took over second to the outside, while Maximum Security sat in third, at least three lengths behind the frontrunner.
Midcourt covered the half-mile 46.87 with a two-length advantage and before he made his way around the far turn, Maximum Security had enough of Higher Power and passed that rival easily past the five-sixteenths. Just as Midcourt passed the quarter pole, Maximum Security and his pilot set their sights on victory, but a deliberate Midcourt didn’t wasn’t about to give up easily and determinedly battled with Maximum Security to his outside down the lane, reluctantly giving up the win in the last jump before the wire.
“He broke really well and we were in front,” Cedillo said. “Then that horse outside me (Midcourt) rushed up and I didn’t want to have to deal with him, so I just let him go. Then on the backstretch that other horse (Higher Power) came up inside me, but I felt OK. My horse was fine. When we turned for home I had to get to work. I knew I was going to do that. He’s the kind of horse you have to ride all the way. You have to keep working on him. We got it done. I thought I’d won the photo, but you can never be sure about those thing. But it came out right.”
Midcourt logged six furlongs in 1:11.40 and a mile in 1:37.91, with Maximum Security passing the teletimer for the win in 1:44.54 over a fast main track.
Higher Power held on to third and was followed by Ax Man and Combatant, who was never a factor after blowing the break. Sharp Samurai was scratched.
“That was crazy,” Baffert, who took over as trainer for Jason Servis, said. “I knew I didn’t have him really drummed up for this race, we were going to use this to get ready for the next one. But we’re learning about the horse. He won today when he had every reason to get beat. He showed what a great horse he is today. He’s such a fighter. I’m glad we got this over with and now he’s in good shape.”
Maximum Security earned $90,000 in his first California victory to bring his career bankroll to $11,891,900 and his line now stands at 11-9-1-0. He also won last year’s Florida Derby (G1), Haskell Invitational (G1), Cigar Mile (G1) and Bold Ruler Handicap (G3), and this year’s inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) in Saudi Arabia.
He is out of the Anasheed mare Lil Indy and is so far her most successful offspring. She sold to the Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Farm in foal to Quality Road for $1.85 million at Keeneland in November of last year after having brought just $11,000 through the same sales ring a year prior in foal to a full brother to Maximum Security.
Next stop for last year’s 3-year-old champion, according to Baffert, will be the $500,000 Pacific Classic (G1).