First start for a new barn. First race in five months. A new rider and a new track. A bevy of obstacles stood between Maximum Security and victory in Saturday’s $150,000 San Diego H. (G2) at Del Mar, but the 2-5 favorite refused to yield in the face of adversity and ultimately made his California debut a winning one.
Not that the task came easily. To the contrary, last year’s champion 3-year-old male had to work hard in his first run for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who took over training duties following Maximum Security’s rousing triumph in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29.
“That was crazy,” remarked Baffert after the race. “I knew I didn’t have him really drummed up for this race – we were going to use this to get ready for the next one (likely the Aug. 22 Pacific Classic [G1]). But we’re learning about the horse. He won today when he had every reason to get beat. He showed what a great horse he is today. He’s such a fighter. I’m glad we got this over with and now he’s in good shape.”
Facing four rivals over 1 1/16 miles, Maximum Security was required to carry top weight of 127 pounds, conceding five to nine pounds to a formidable group of stakes-winning adversaries. He did so while guided for the first time by Abel Cedillo, filling in for regular rider Luis Saez after the latter tested positive for COVID-19 and then had to remain at Saratoga due to the pandemic protocols.
If Cedillo was hoping for a nice, easy stroll to the winner’s circle, he was in for a surprise. The up-and-coming jockey was forced to make a couple of split-second decisions during the course of the race, the first occurring when Maximum Security broke beautifully and sprinted to the front heading into the first turn.
Perhaps recalling how Maximum Security’s greatest victories have come when chasing a target, Cedillo reined in the favorite and allowed Midcourt and Higher Power to cruise on by, with the former opening up a two-length advantage following splits of :23.74 and :46.87. But there was risk involved with this strategy, and Maximum Security appeared sluggish down the backstretch and around the far turn, only gradually re-closing the deficit despite encouragement from Cedillo.
“He broke really well and we were in front. Then that horse outside me (Midcourt) rushed up and I didn’t want to have to deal with him, so I just let him go,” explained Cedillo. “Then on the backstretch that other horse (Higher Power) came up aside me, but I felt OK. My horse was fine. When we turned for home I had to get to work. I knew I was going to do that. He’s the kind of horse you have to ride all the way. You have to keep working on him.”
Indeed, an upset appeared in the offing when Midcourt spun into the stretch still in command of the lead, but Maximum Security wasn’t done yet. Though he was drifting out under pressure, Maximum Security worked his way to even terms with Midcourt at the eighth pole, after which the two rivals engaged in a ding-dong battle to the wire. Midcourt tried hard to battle back, but Maximum Security always held a slim advantage and flashed across the finish line in front by a nose.
“We got it done,” said Cedillo. “I thought I’d won the photo, but you can never be sure about those things. But it came out right.”
Maximum Security stopped the timer in 1:44.54 over a slow and tiring track. Higher Power weakened to finish third, followed by Ax Man and Combatant, with the latter unable to rally after getting away to a poor start.
Owned by the partnership of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B. Tabor, Derrick Smith, and breeders Gary and Mary West, Maximum Security is a son of New Year’s Day out of the Anasheed mare Lil Indy. A three-time Grade 1 winner famously disqualified from victory in the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1), Maximum Security has earned $11,891,900.
For Cedillo, the San Diego wasn’t his only major success of the day. Half an hour earlier he visited the winner’s circle aboard Laura’s Light in the $152,500 San Clemente Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old fillies. Favored at 6-5, the daughter of Constitution was content to track early splits of :22.46, :46.15, and 1:10.16, but took command readily when called upon and held off longshot Guitty in the stretch to win the one-mile turf race by three-quarters of a length in 1:34.16.
“Oh, boy; she was ready today. This filly, you can do what you want with her,” said Cedillo. “She’ll go to the lead, she’ll let me take a hold. She’s just there. You love to ride horses like that. This was a tough race today; some good horses in there. But my filly was ready and I felt strong (confident). She ran a great race.”
Bred in Kentucky by Golden Pedigree, Laura’s Light is trained by Peter Miller on behalf of owner Gary Barber. Produced by the Muqtarib mare Light of a Star, Laura’s Light has won three of her four starts in 2020, with previous victories in the Honeymoon (G3) and Sweet Life (G3) adding depth to her growing resume.
Miller indicated Laura’s Light will be considered for a start in the Aug. 22 Del Mar Oaks (G1), where she’ll have an opportunity to seek a career-defining Grade 1 win.