Haskell Invitational: Maximum Security has chance to stake claim as leading 3-year-old

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As we’ve seen time and again, though, that is easier said than done.

A victory against six rivals in the main event of the Monmouth Park season would greatly clarify the divisional picture. A clean,

controversy-free victory would be Maximum Security’s second official Grade 1 win of the year.

Add in the fact that he hit the wire first in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and you suddenly have a clear-cut leader of the crop.

For that to happen, Maximum Security must regain his winning ways. He is the 8-5 favorite on the Haskell morning line. No one would be surprised if the price dropped into odds-on territory by post time.

Nothing has come easy lately for the son of New Year’s Day who was a front-running steamroller earlier this year.

The saga has been well chronicled of the horse that debuted in a $16,000 maiden claimer last December and promptly reeled off three straight wins.

But none of those victories earned him qualifying points for the Derby. In an all-or-nothing gambit, trainer Jason Servis and owners Gary & Mary West took aim at the Florida Derby  (G1).

The result: another pacesetting win, a Grade 1 victory and a guaranteed spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Things turned sour at Churchill Downs with a disqualification still widely debated in thoroughbred circles and lawsuits awaiting resolution.

This is the point where we pick up the story, when Maximum Security returned from Louisville to his summer home at Monmouth.

The Haskell had always been a long-range target. The road to get there was open to debate.

Servis ultimately opted to use Monmouth’s Pegasus Stakes on June 16 as the comeback. In the week leading up to the Pegasus, Servis waffled. Some bloodwork on the colt didn’t come back exactly 100 per cent. Servis second guessed the decision to run, pondering the option of training up to the Haskell.

But the horse seemed fine and the timing was ideal. The gaps from the Derby to the Pegasus and then the Haskell were appealing.

“He was doing good, training great, so we went with it,” Servis said.

So the Pegasus it was, and it looked like an easy layup. Especially to those bettors who sent Maximum Security away as the 1-20 favorite.

Trouble struck at the break as Maximum Security lunged and stumbled. The mishap knocked him off his game and put him in a relentless dogfight with King for a Day. The unheralded colt from the Todd Pletcher barn eventually wore down Maximum Security, pulling clear to a length victory.

“I felt the break compromised him a little bit,” Servis said. “He got beat and we lived to fight another day.”

In the immediate aftermath of the stunning loss, Servis vowed Maximum Security would be sharper next time.

That time comes Saturday in the Haskell that features a rematch with King for a Day.

Following his usual pattern, Servis trained Maximum Security up to the Haskell with a series of methodical distance gallops. The last one was Monday, an open gallop mile that Servis clocked in 1:53.

“It’s something I’ve done for a long time,” Servis said. “I’ve had a little success with it. I think he’s a little better after the Pegasus. The Derby took a toll on him. We have to get past that (the Pegasus), get that out of the way. I think he’ll move a little bit forward off that last race.”

Perhaps all the way to front of the 3-year-old division.

The field, from the rail out: King for a Day (John Velazquez, 5-2); Joevia (Jose Lezcano, 10-1); Spun to Run (Paco Lopez, 15-1); Bethlehem Road (Luis Rodriguez Castro,  20-1); Mucho Gusto (Joe Talamo, 2-1); Everfast (Julien Leparoux,  10-1).

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