By Richard Rosenblatt
After watching Maximum Security dust off another contingent of challengers, this time in the Pacific Classic (G1), I began to long for a Kentucky Derby do-over.
On May 4, 2019, the sensational but star-crossed colt smoked 18 rivals under rising star Luis Saez, and finished first by 1 ¾ lengths. By veering out sharply in the stretch, he caused a bumping incident involving several horses and rightfully was DQ’d to 17th. Country House, who never really threatened in the race, was elevated from second to first.
(If the 2019 Derby stood the horse racing world on its collective ear, the 2020 Derby is as topsy-turvy in its own way, scheduled to be run Sept. 5 as the second leg of the Triple Crown, with no spectators in attendance at Churchill Downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Looking over last year’s chart, no less than 15 of those Derby horses are either still racing or in training (Country House is retired, and never raced again after the Derby).
Among them, listed with their official Derby finishes, are Code of Honor (second), Tacitus (third), Improbable (fourth), War of Will (seventh), By My Standards (11th), and Vekoma (12th). All racing, all competing at the top level, with Code of Honor (Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup), Improbable (Hollywood Gold Cup, Whitney), Vekoma (Carter, Met Mile) and War of Will (Preakness) having won some of the biggest Grade 1’s in the country in the ensuing 15-plus months.
None are even close, though, to the accomplishments in the wild and crazy 12-race career of Maximum Security (10-1-0). The bay colt was formerly trained by the currently indicted Jason Servis. After the Derby, owners Gary and Mary West sued in false hopes of having the decision overturned; Maximum Security missed the Preakness and Belmont Stakes; Servis, along with about two dozen others, were indicted and charged with being involved with obtaining and administering performance-enhancing drugs to racehorses.
Maximum Security’s thrilling victory over the champion Midnight Bisou in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29 is still in doubt as an investigation continues to determine whether a DQ is warranted because of the Servis situation. The winner’s purse of $10 million has not yet been paid.
Five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert took over the training of “Max” after the Saudi Cup, and watched him nose out a victory in the San Diego Handicap (G2) on July 25 and then cruise to a three-length win in Saturday’s 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Abel Cedillo was aboard both times.
“He’s a top horse. People need to know he is the real deal,” Baffert said. “It’s a shame what he’s gone through. It’s not his fault, but he is a great horse.”
In the 2019 Derby, Maximum Security was the 9-2 second choice behind 4-1 favorite Improbable. Tacitus was 5-1, Code of Honor 14-1, War of Will and Vekoma each 16-1.
I will always think of Maximum Security as a champion and a Derby winner. And while there’s no Derby do-over, there’s something even better to look forward to: the $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 7: a 2020 Belmont, Travers, Derby winner in Tiz the Law versus DQ’d 2019 Derby, Haskell, Cigar Mile, Saudi Cup and Pacific Classic winner Maximum Security.
And in the mix could be a handful of Max’s Derby rivals, including Improbable, By My Standards, Code of Honor, Tacitus, Vekoma and War of Will.
That would work out well for me.
On the morning after, Baffert was non-committal about Maximum Security’s next start. He has mentioned the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park on Oct. 10.
“I’m not sure yet,’’ Baffert said.
The Pacific Classic win carries an automatic berth into the BC Classic on Nov. 7. Sent right to lead from the outset, Maximum Security ($2.80) went gate-to-wire and covered the 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.24.
After the race Baffert said Max was not even breathing hard and posed in front of the infield tote board.
First out on the Saratoga main track Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m. ET, expected Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz the Law worked 5 furlongs in 59.47 seconds under regular exercise rider Heather Smullen.
He galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:12.80 and 7 furlongs in 1:26.
“It went fast enough, but not too fast,” trainer Barclay Tagg told the NYRA press office. “It was a little quicker than usual, but it wasn’t too quick for him. He’s a pretty fast horse. I told Heather I wanted a good work in him. I didn’t want to set any records out there. I wanted her to keep a good snug hold on him. I wanted a good work.”
This was the Tiz the Law’s first workout since winning the Travers (G1) by 5 ½ lengths on Aug. 8. The Derby is Sept. 5.
Jack Knowlton, principal owner of Sackatoga Stable, also was watching.
“Pretty amazing,” Knowlton said. “If you watch him gallop out, he just wants more. He isn’t even breathing hard, which is pretty amazing. They didn’t expect that he was going to have a fast work. They wanted him to have a vigorous work and gallop out and get a lot out of the work. I think they got all of that and more.”
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.