Fans have had to wait one week longer for the return of Maximum Security, after a flurry of COVID-19 positives among the Del Mar jockey colony prompted the cancellation of racing on the weekend of July 17-19. In the reshuffling of the schedule, his intended comeback spot, the $150,000 San Diego Handicap (G2), was pushed back from July 18 to 25.
But at last, on Saturday, the champion makes his first start for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. The 127-pound highweight will be conceding both weight and recency to his five rivals in the 1 1/16-mile affair.
Maximum Security has not raced since his $20 million Saudi Cup victory over champion mare Midnight Bisou, Godolphin globetrotter Benbatl, Baffert’s Pegasus World Cup (G1) romper Mucho Gusto, and Tacitus among others on Feb. 29 in Riyadh. Not long afterward, trainer Jason Servis was the subject of a federal indictment, and Maximum Security moved to the Baffert barn.
That’s the latest twist in the Maximum Security saga. The Gary and Mary West homebred started out in a $16,000 maiden claimer, rapidly climbed the ranks to dominate the 2019 Florida Derby (G1), and appeared to complete his rags-to-riches story in the Kentucky Derby (G1), only to be disqualified for interference on the far turn. After suffering his only on-track loss in the Pegasus at Monmouth, he rebounded in the Haskell Invitational (G1), but was forced to skip the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) with a bout of colic.
Maximum Security roared back later in the fall, defeating elders in both the Bold Ruler H. (G3) and Cigar Mile H. (G1) to clinch the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. The son of New Year’s Day acquired new co-owners – the Coolmore partners – and made a swift return on investment in Saudi Arabia.
Now Maximum Security embarks upon another chapter in his career, with the San Diego potentially serving as his prep for the $500,000 Pacific Classic (G1) on Aug. 22. That 1 1/4-mile prize is a “Win and You’re In” for the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland.
Unlike his leisurely moves for Servis, Maximum Security has adjusted to Baffert’s more demanding workout style. His recent moves include two strong 6-furlong drills in 1:12.40 (the second a bullet on June 27 at Santa Anita), 7 furlongs in 1:25.40, and a 5-furlong exercise in :59.60 at Del Mar July 11. In lieu of racing July 18, Maximum Security kept up the work pattern with another 6-furlong bullet in 1:11.60.
Maximum Security will also have a new rider Saturday, although not by design. Regular pilot Luis Saez was out of action after a positive COVID-19 test, and up-and-coming Abel Cedillo got the opportunity to take the reins. (Saez is tentatively set to resume riding at Saratoga July 24, but won’t be able to make the trip for Maximum Security due to pandemic protocols at both the Spa and Del Mar). Maximum Security is drawn in post 5, while stablemate Ax Man might provide a target from post 2.
Also double-handed in the San Diego is John Sadler. His two are reigning Pacific Classic winner Higher Power, most recently second to Improbable in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), and Santa Anita H. (G1) hero Combatant, who hopes to turn the page on a 10th in the Oaklawn H. (G2).
Midcourt puts the blinkers back on for John Shirreffs after flopping in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He’s better judged on his prior form as the San Pasqual (G2) winner and close third in the Big ‘Cap. Multiple Grade 2 turf veteran Sharp Samurai has a more straightforward alternative in Sunday’s Eddie Read (G2), in which he’s placed second and fourth, respectively, in the past two years.
Maximum Security will be spotting five pounds to Midcourt and Higher Power, six to Combatant, eight to Sharp Samurai (if he opts for this spot), and nine to Ax Man.
The original San Diego field almost remained intact. The one entrant who dropped out was the Peter Eurton-trained Dark Vader, who opts for the 3RD race instead. He stretches out from a pleasing third to McKinzie in his Triple Bend (G2) tightener.
The repositioned San Diego now has a Grade 2 supporting feature in the $150,000 San Clemente Stakes (G2). The one-mile turf test, a stepping stone to the August 22 Del Mar Oaks (G1), has attracted the Peter Miller duo of Honeymoon (G3) heroine Laura’s Light and sprinter She’s So Special who just beat the boys in the Desert Code; four-time stakes star Warren’s Showtime; multiple Grade 3-winning Florida shipper Cheermeister; Croughavouke, knocking on the proverbial door since her importation from Ireland; recent California Oaks runner-up Mind Out from the Simon Callaghan barn; intriguing comebacker Applecross and her Richard Baltas stablemate Little Bird; Over Attracted, a promising second in her U.S. premiere; Guitty; and Pocahontas (G2) scorer Lazy Daisy, who’s lost her form and hopes to find new life on the surface switch.
The Saturday stakes action begins with the $65,000 Smiling Tiger Stakes for 3-year-olds at 6 furlongs. Ragtime Blues, runner-up in the Laz Barrera (G3) in his stakes debut, tackles Thanks Mr Eidson who goes turf to dirt as well as recent Los Alamitos maiden romper Vertical Threat.