Maximum Security Noses Out Midcourt In San Diego Handicap

Making his first start for trainer Bob Baffert, Gary and Mary West and Coolmore partners’ Maximum Security – the 3-year-old male champion of 2019 and winner of the $20-million, Group 1 Saudi Cup last out on Feb. 29 – made a successful return to the races on Saturday, winning the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap by a nose over front-running Midcourt at Del Mar near San Diego, Calif.

Ridden for the first time by Abel Cedillo – pinch hitting for regular rider Luis Saez – Maximum Security covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.54 carrying 127 pounds as the 2-5 favorite, conceding five pounds to Midcourt and third-place finisher Higher Power. Ax Man finished fourth, with Combatant last in the field of five older runners. Sharp Samurai was scratched.

Maximum Security broke sharply but was overtaken early by Midcourt and jockey Victor Espinoza, who made an aggressive move to the front rounding the first turn. Going into the backstretch, Flavien Prat and Higher Power moved up alongside and past Maximum Security, with the latter checking momentarily and slipping back several lengths behind the front-running Midcourt.

Midcourt set fractions of :23.74, :46.87 and 1:11.40 for the first six furlongs while being chased by  Higher Power, with Cedillo swinging Maximum Security three wide down the backstretch and urging the colt to take on the pace-setter with just under a half mile to run.

San Diego Handicap photo finish

The two horses separated from Higher Power at the top of the stretch and went by the mile marker as a team in 1:37.91. In the final sixteenth, Maximum Security put his head in front, but Midcourt came back on approaching the wire, just missing.

“He broke really well and we were in front,” Cedillo said. “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. Then on the backstretch that other horse (Higher Power) came up inside 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. We got it done. I thought I’d won the photo, but you can never be sure about those things. But it came out right.”

“That was crazy,” Baffert said of Maximum Security’s trip. “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. 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.”

Maximum Security was transferred to Baffert after the colt’s former trainer, Jason Servis, was arrested on federal criminal charges stemming from an FBI investigation into doping of racehorses. The purse from the Saudi Cup was put on hold after the March 9 arrest of Servis, fellow trainer Jorge Navarro and more than two dozen others.

Maximum Security, a 4-year-old colt by New Year’s Day who began his racing career in a $16,000 maiden claiming race at Gulfstream Park in December 2018, has won nine of 11 starts, including the Grade 1 trio of the Florida Derby, Haskell Stakes and Cigar Mile. One of his two defeats came when he crossed the wire first in the G1 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for interference on the stretch turn.

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