Commentary: Maximum Security romps in no-doubter at Del Mar’s Pacific Classic
With each powerful and comfortable stride, Maximum Security put more and more distance between himself and the whispers.
As the 4-year-old bay colt chewed up the dirt during a disarmingly easy wire-to-wire win in the $500,000 Pacific Classic on Saturday, side glances about former trainer Jason Servis being indicted for alleged horse doping faded.
A nagging and lingering dark cloud about $10 million in prize money being held up from a Saudi Cup win in February as those drug allegations continue to be sorted suddenly seemed hard to believe.
Change the trainer, from Servis to Bob Baffert? No problem. Switch out the jockey, from Luis Saez — stuck out east because of COVID-19 travel restrictions — to Abel Cedillo? Fine. Clutter Maximum Security’s world and he calmly unclutters it by the time the finish line arrives.
“He’s got a lot of W’s by his name,” Baffert said after his horse easily held off Sharp Samurai by three lengths. “There’s a reason for that.”
Baffert should probably consider purchasing a thoughtful thank you gift for owners Gary and Mary West of Rancho Santa Fe. His stable always is an embarrassment of four-legged riches, but inheriting a horse the caliber of Maximum Security planted a permanent smile on his face.
The win tied Baffert with Bobby Frankel for a record sixth Pacific Classic triumph and elevated his Del Mar-leading stakes victories to 137.
This one kicked suspense and drama to the curb as Maximum Security eased home in 2:01.24. He transformed 2019 Classic winner Higher Power (fourth) and Midcourt, the third-place finisher whom he edged by a nose at the July 25 San Diego Handicap, into mere spectators.
“I have to say this is probably the best horse I’ve ever ridden,” Cedillo said.
As Baffert walked off the track, Mary West summed it best: “He’s got a huge heart.” Her husband Gary explained the mix of relief and pride about one of the most unique roads a thoroughbred ever has traveled.
“I’ve got tears in my eyes,” he said.
The dominating run Saturday became horse racing’s version of a not-a-worry-in-the-world stroll in the park. Cedillo did not need to ask him for another gear, because they never needed one.
Maximum Security broke cleanly, settled into the lead and enjoyed the ride. He’s now won 10 of 12 career starts, or 11 of 12 if you count his finish in the Kentucky Derby before a rider objection caused him to tumble to 17th and rattle an entire sport.
With Saturday’s no-doubter, the scary quotient now rises to full-on 9.
“He’s getting better and better every week,” Baffert said. “It’s exciting.”
Maximum Security raced past $12 million in career earnings.
Now, Baffert and the Wests must decide where this fascinating, flashy show steps into the spotlight next. Baffert said the Oct. 10 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park is an option to ship east in anticipation of the November’s Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in Kentucky.
Then again, Santa Anita remains in the mix, too.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said.
At the San Diego Handicap, Baffert said his horse was only “80 percent prepped” as they waded through the handoff to a new trainer and new jockey. Not so this time, though.
This was a machine running at max, or Max, efficiency.
“He was a totally different horse today,” Baffert said. “He just does things effortlessly.”
Maximum Security was not the only one flexing a few muscles.
The win was part of a day where Del Mar, even without spectators beyond owners, banked $24,491,319 in betting handle — the fifth-highest day in Del Mar history for a non-Breeders’ Cup race.
No doubt remained about the star of the show, though.
Despite a humid, 86-degree day, Maximum Security hardly worked up a sweat.
“He wasn’t even (breathing hard) when he came back,” Baffert said.
In the San Diego Handicap, challengers Higher Power and Midcourt each carried 122 pounds while Maximum Security started at 127. Since everyone raced at 124 pounds Saturday, the five-pound swing in the winner’s favor simply became another tool in a talented tool box.
An outside post position — No. 5 of six — meant he could dodge the trouble that boxed him in during the San Diego. The mile-and-a-quarter distance fit like a comfortable pair of jeans, as it did at the 2019 Derby.
The biggest challenge, Baffert joked, was staying out of Maximum Security’s way.
“I don’t want to be the guy who slowed him down,” he said.
At this point, there seems little chance of that.
Miller is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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