Disqualified as the first-past-the-post in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Maximum Security ultimately regained his position atop the division and earned the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. Voters also made the Gary and Mary West homebred a finalist for Horse of the Year honors, where he placed third to turf star Bricks and Mortar and champion sprinter Mitole.
The Derby rollercoaster was the most tumultuous experience of Maximum Security’s season, but the whole arc of his career so far is a plot twist. It would be an understatement to say that he’s exceeded expectations, having started out in a mere $16,000 maiden claimer.
Although that will go down in history as a lucky escape for connections, it appeared a logical placement at the time. Sire New Year’s Day, who wasn’t exactly setting the sales ring alight, was being exported to Brazil. His dam, the Anasheed mare Lil Indy, had just been culled for $11,000 at Keeneland November.
Nor had Maximum Security touted himself in his early training for Jason Servis. But in that Dec. 22, 2018, debut at Gulfstream Park, the bay romped by 9 3/4 lengths. He got away without being claimed, and his team knew better not to risk it again.
Servis craftily kept him in starter/optional claiming company before asking him a serious question. Maximum Security went from strength to strength, following a 6 1/2-length score with an 18 1/4-length demolition job.
The Florida Derby (G1) was the acid test for the sophomore who’d risen from nowhere, beat up on lower-level competition, and hadn’t run beyond 7 furlongs. Maximum Security proved that he was indeed a proper Kentucky Derby contender when wiring the field and bringing a perfect record to Churchill Downs.
The 9-2 second choice in the Run for the Roses, Maximum Security again used his trademark speed to control the race until an incident on the far turn. He appeared to shy from something and ducked out. A chain reaction ensued, most notably involving War of Will who did well to keep his feet and not go down in what could have been a traumatic turn of events. Code of Honor, who took the opportunity to advance up the rail, wasn’t involved in that fracas, but was tightened up as Maximum Security overcorrected back to the inside.
Maximum Security regained his forward momentum in the stretch, found a second gear, and pulled 1 3/4 lengths clear of Country House. But Country House’s jockey, Flavien Prat, and the rider of unplaced Long Range Toddy, Jon Court, claimed foul against Luis Saez aboard Maximum Security.
The stewards upheld the claims, and for the first time in Kentucky Derby history, the winner was disqualified for interference. Only once before had a Derby winner been stripped of his crown, but Dancer’s Image (1968) was demoted later after testing positive for bute. Maximum Security was officially placed 17th, his position dictated by where Long Range Toddy finished. Controversy erupted among fans who felt the rightful winner was aggrieved, and the Wests have waged an unsuccessful battle in the courts to overturn the stewards’ ruling.
The outstanding issues have yet to be settled on the racetrack. The principals went their separate ways, and Country House was sidelined the rest of the year.
Maximum Security regrouped back at his Monmouth summer base, with the Haskell Invitational (G1) his obvious target. But the vibes from Servis were cautionary ahead of his prep in the June 16 Pegasus, and the trainer actually had bloodwork done on the colt before giving the green light to run. A stumbling start didn’t help, and Maximum Security suffered his only on-track loss when King for a Day floored him by a length.
Back to his best in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell, Maximum Security pressed the pace and saw off a challenge from Mucho Gusto in a sharp 1:47.56. But he had to survive a stewards’ inquiry for an incident affecting the eventual fifth King for a Day, also on the far turn. This one was adjudicated much faster, and the victory declared official.
Maximum Security missed the Travers (G1) when Servis wasn’t satisfied with his condition. His next assignment was supposed to be the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), and a hotly anticipated rematch with War of Will. Then Maximum Security came down with colic, forcing him out of the Parx feature and leading to a change in his fall plans.
Resuming in the 7-furlong Bold Ruler H. (G3) versus older horses, Maximum Security led throughout under the top weight of 121 pounds, showed grit to repel his foes, and sped in 1:20.76. That set him up for the Dec. 7 Cigar Mile (G1), where he again held sway from pillar to post as the 122-pound highweight.
The Cigar was widely expected to clinch the Eclipse Award for Maximum Security. Back-to-back wins over his elders distinguished him from leading rivals Code of Honor and Omaha Beach, and it didn’t hurt that Cigar runner-up Spun to Run was coming off an upset of Omaha Beach in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). A handful of voters was so bowled over that they listed Maximum Security as champion sprinter as well on their ballots, although Mitole was the landslide winner in that category.
Maximum Security’s official scorecard stands at 9-7-1-0, $1,801,900. His bankroll figures to increase exponentially with a big effort in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29.
Coolmore has reportedly bought a 50% interest in the colt, who is expected to enter stud in 2021. Until then, Maximum Security has every right to carry his form forward this season. After all, his dam is a half-sister to $3.6 million-earner Flat Out, a promising youngster turned multiple Grade 1 winner as an older horse.
|3-YEAR-OLD MALE||FIRST-PLACE VOTES|
|Code of Honor||8|