Champion Maximum Security has won a series of major races by using his potent early speed, but Saturday’s inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup showcased another dimension: his gritty will to win. Despite a checkered passage behind the wandering Mucho Gusto, the 6-5 favorite kept on determinedly to earn the $10 million winner’s check.
The other Eclipse Award winner in the field, champion distaffer Midnight Bisou, rallied from last to miss by just three-quarters of a length. Godolphin’s Benbatl edged Mucho Gusto for third to prevent an American trifecta, while Tacitus was a non-threatening fifth and McKinzie a lackluster 11th of 14.
Maximum Security sported the colors of Michael Tabor in his first start for his new ownership, the Coolmore partners teaming up to campaign him with owner/breeders Gary and Mary West. Away alertly from post 7 with regular rider Luis Saez, he let the other speed go ahead and settled just behind them.
Dubai shipper North America strode forward with Mucho Gusto wider out, but Capezzano hustled from post 13 to take the lead and the rail. Once North America was relegated to a stalking rather than a pace-controlling role, his chance was gone.
Mucho Gusto was traveling best of all as he attended the pace, then effortlessly put Capezzano away. The chasing Maximum Security was already coming under a ride on the far turn, and at that point, few would have called him the winner. Down the long stretch of King Abdulaziz Racecourse, however, last year’s champion 3-year-old male never gave up.
When Maximum Security initially tried to gain on the outside, Mucho Gusto drifted out under Irad Ortiz Jr. Saez had to steer him to the leader’s inside, only to have Mucho Gusto come back in and herd him just as he was making headway. Meanwhile, Midnight Bisou, who had been at the absolute rear entering the lane, was closing relentlessly into the frame.
Inside the final sixteenth, Maximum Security finally mastered Mucho Gusto. Midnight Bisou was now the danger, but the Jason Servis pupil held her at bay by three-quarters of a length. The son of New Year’s Day covered about 9 furlongs in 1:50.58.
Servis was critical of Ortiz’s race-riding in his comments to thesaudicup.com.
“You know, I was a little upset with Irad Ortiz who kept tearing me out down the backside and who carried me out in the turn, and when Max dropped inside he came down on me, but that is a story for another day,” Servis said.
“Really, that horse has got a lot of heart,” he added of Maximum Security. “He is some horse, he is amazing. It’s got to be some vindication. He ran hard, I thought he was creased up in behind. He was really doing good.
“I am a bit superstitious and didn’t want to over-talk him but the last three days, when he breezed the mile and one (furlong), he just ran and came off the track there was just a presence about him and I tried to stay calm, but I was really feeling good the last few days.”
Maximum Security has finished first in nine of 10 starts, including the Kentucky Derby (G1) that saw him demoted to 17th for interference. His official 10-8-1-0 record reflects victories in the Florida Derby (G1), Haskell Invitational (G1), Bold Ruler (G3), and Cigar Mile (G1) last time out. His only on-track loss came in the Pegasus at Monmouth last summer, when he got off to a troubled start.
Now brandishing $11,801,900 in career earnings, Maximum Security could pad that bankroll in the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) on March 28.
“I have a great team with Coolmore and the Wests,” Servis said, “and they have great managers. We will have a conference call tomorrow morning and take it from there.”
Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier praised Maximum Security’s team.
“All I can say is that we are very lucky people that Gary and Mary West let us into the horse and all I can say, it is an absolute credit to the two gentlemen on my left, the job they have done with this horse, it’s quite incredible,” Magnier said. “There were a couple of flutters all right, but Jason was very confident beforehand. The best man was riding. He gave him a fantastic ride.”
“Oh my God, this is amazing,” Saez said. “To win the race, to be here, to travel from far away and to have a victory for United States, for Panama, for all my people, this is something I don’t have words for.
“This is the true Kentucky Derby winner. I’m so glad to be on the horse. This is a big deal. I would like to thank God, the owners for letting me ride the horse and I would like to thank my brother (Juan who died after a tragic spill at Indiana Grand in Oct. 2014). I know you are watching me, I love you.”
Midnight Bisou’s Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, who won Friday’s International Jockeys’ Challenge, was delighted with her performance.
“She ran so well and I am so proud of her,” Smith said. “She ran awesome. I did everything but we didn’t come first, but she won, do you know what I am saying? Amazing weekend.”
Benbatl stayed on for third, another two lengths astern, to the satisfaction of trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
“I’m proud of him,” the Godolphin trainer said. “Maximum Security is a very good horse. Now we’ll take him back to Dubai and make a decision on the next race. Maybe he’d be better over 2000 meters, so we will think about the big race (the Dubai World Cup).”
Mucho Gusto ran out of steam at late in fourth, but at least turned up on gameday unlike stablemate McKinzie.
“McKinzie just left there flat-footed,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said. “He just never (gave any run). When I saw him back there I knew. I don’t know what happened.
“(Mucho Gusto) broke like a shot and he just got tired. Those are good horses. It looked like he was doing it easy. Turning for home I thought it was going to be like Gulfstream Park (where he dominated the Pegasus World Cup [G1]) but he just got outrun.”
Tacitus could get no closer than fifth. Hall of Fame horseman Bill Mott noted an early trouble line but wasn’t citing it as a factor.
“He got hit coming out of the gate,” Mott said. “He was on the inside and could get through but when he did get to the outside in the stretch he had 2 1/2 furlongs to get there and didn’t. No excuse really.”
Japan’s Gold Dream was sixth, one spot ahead of his hitherto unbeaten compatriot, Chrysoberyl. Local hope Mjjack reported home eighth, trailed by Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand, Gronkowski, McKinzie, Great Scot, North America, and Capezzano.