Column: ‘Clouded’ legacy of Maximum Security seeks clarity at Breeders’ Cup
Horse co-owned by Gary and Mary West of Rancho Santa Fe has shot to become of sport’s all-time winningest
Legacies can be fickle things, often shaped and shaded by circumstances not under the control of those defined by them. The imprint left behind can be one part excellence, one part cosmic chaos.
What if Maximum Security, the relentless thoroughbred co-owned by Gary and Mary West of Rancho Santa Fe, was not disqualified at the 2019 Kentucky Derby for the kind of rugged shuffling considered routine during roller derbies and 20-horse fields on the first Saturday in May?
What if former trainer Jason Servis was not indicted on doping charges, erasing doubts about the horse’s $10 million win in February at the Saudi Cup? Maximum Security has sailed through every drug test during his brilliant career, yet carries the stain of whispers in the wings.
The chance to bend the narrative comes Saturday in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
Win the premier race during horse racing’s richest weekend — the $3.3 million earned would leapfrog him past California Chrome, the 2014 Derby and Preakness champion, as the No. 4 earner of all time — and question marks become exclamation points.
The stacked field includes Kentucky Derby winner Authentic, Belmont champ Tiz the Law and Improbable, the horse that beat Maximum Security in his last outing at the Awesome Again Stakes. Preakness victor Swiss Skydiver, a rising filly, also could climb into the starting gate.
A rare opportunity awaits.
“He does have a clouded story around him,” Jerry Bailey, the Hall of Fame jockey and NBC analyst, said about Maximum Security. “He’s never tested positive on any of the races he’s won, so that’s really not fair to him. If he wins the Classic, that certainly would go a long way (to establishing his legacy).”
The Derby unraveling is well documented after rider objections led to the sole on-track unseating of a winner in the race’s 144 years. Maximum Security has captured 10 of his other 12 career races, including the money-soaked Saudi Cup in Riyadh.
Once the Servis allegations surfaced, the Saudis stopped payment and still have not delivered the check.
“Max was tested by the two best testing labs in the world, Paris and Hong Kong, and all test results were negative,” Gary West relayed via email. “In any other racing jurisdiction on earth, the race would have been declared official many months ago. Maximum Security is one of the most accomplished race horses of his generation, but winning the Classic would move him to another level.
“I want him to be the most tested horse on earth, so if he does well in the Classic no one can claim it is anything but talent that made him a great race horse.”
Until the Awesome Again at Santa Anita, the lone competitive stumble came when Maximum Security, well, stumbled at the start and finished second in June 2019 during the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth. Maximum Security buried winner King for a Day a month later with a clean trip at the Haskell.
That makes the Sept. 26 loss to Improbable all the more curious.
Improbable and Classic contender Tacitus faded into Maximum Security’s rearview mirror at the 2019 Derby before stewards got involved. The Eclipse Award winner for 3-year-old colts had won six straight with half being Grade I triumphs before being flat-out beat for the first time.
“I really think he was coming off that big win down there (winning the Pacific Classic on Aug. 22 at Del Mar) and came back quick,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “The race didn’t set up for him. He didn’t bring his ‘A’ game. It wasn’t him. He’s a fighter. He’s a gamer.
“He’s training well, so we’ll see.”
More bluntly, Bailey added: “He was underwhelming in that race.”
The fact Baffert also guides Improbable, along with Authentic, whose ownership includes “microshare” investor and recent World Series-winning pitcher Walker Buehler of the Dodgers, tangles storylines.
“These three, I call them the Dream Team,” Baffert said. “Anyone would love to have that group. It’s like (Padres shortstop Fernando) Tatis down there in San Diego. I’ve got three of him in the Classic.”
For Maximum Security as much as any horse in the field, it’s put-up-or-gallop-off time.
West indicated that, depending on the result of the Classic, this could be Maximum Security’s final race before becoming a stallion in 2021. The other option would be the $3 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 23 at Gulfstream Park.
Bailey said the race shapes up to be a 1 1/4-mile traffic jam behind front-runner Authentic. The field is jammed with horses comfortable stalking, just off the pace. Navigate sloppily at your own four-legged risk.
“I was disappointed in his last race, but you never know,” Bailey said of Maximum Security. “It always looks like it’s a struggle to hold horses off or run horses down, but he keeps doing it. If you bet every pole, (you say) he can’t win from there, he can’t win from there, he can’t win from there.
“He keeps finding more, which is the sign of a good horse.”
How good? The legacy nearly is written.
— Bryce Miller is a sports columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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