by Jon White
April 3, 2019
Warning: Underestimate Maximum Security at your own peril.
No doubt plenty of people are going to scoff at him in the Kentucky Derby.
There will be those who will believe he had it all his own way on the front end last Saturday while being permitted to set a tepid pace, a scenario that is very unlikely to be repeated in the Run for the Roses.
And there will be those who subscribe to the notion that it is extremely doubtful a horse who ran in a maiden $16,000 claiming race when debuting Dec. 20 at Gulfstream is good enough to win the $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 4.
But then an awful lot of people did not take Maximum Security seriously in the Florida Derby. How did that turn out?
Many moons ago I learned that one should never take an undefeated horse lightly. Never. There is no way to truly know how good a horse is when the horse has never been beaten.
Is Maximum Security a cinch to win the Kentucky Derby? Nope. Far from it. But is there a possibility that he will win the 1 1/4-mile classic on the first Saturday in May? There sure is. That’s why he debuts all the way up at No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.
MY KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
1. Omaha Beach
2. Game Winner
3. Maximum Security
5. Long Range Toddy
7. Cutting Humor
9. By My Standards
10. Code of Honor
What Maximum Security has done so far really is remarkable. The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby was his first start going farther than seven furlongs. It was his first race around two turns. It was his first start in a stakes race and first in a graded stakes race. After he graduated from the maiden ranks by almost 10 lengths, he won a pair of starter allowance/optional claiming races at Gulfstream by 6 1/4 and 18 1/4 lengths.
Does he need the early lead in order to win? Does he need a fast track in order to succeed? No and no.
In the second start of his career on Jan. 24 at Gulfstream, he sat third early before drawing away in the stretch. The track was muddy.
Nobody has come close to beating him so far. He’s won four races by a combined 38 lengths. His average margin of victory is 9 1/2 lengths. That is what you call domination.
Maximum Security’s 18 1/4-length laugher going seven furlongs on Feb. 20 certainly got my attention. Granted, he was a 1-10 favorite and didn’t beat much. But not only did he win by a humongous margin, he zipped seven furlongs in 1:21.72. He posted a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in that race, a major leap from his first two figures of 81 and 83.
Yes, they let Maximum Security bowl along early while on an uncontested lead. One reason that happened was 9-5 favorite Hidden Scroll did not go for the early lead.
Many (not me) blasted Joel Rosario for his ride in Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 2. They said Rosario should have tried to rate Hidden Scroll early when he set a fast pace and finished fourth. Now many are criticizing Javier Castellano for rating Hidden Scroll early in the Florida Derby. When Hidden Scroll found himself boxed in through the early furlongs while getting dirt thrown back into his face, he did not seem to like it very much. It appeared that rating Hidden Scroll and essentially taking away what probably is his best weapon, his speed, backfired.
As for those of you who are determined to be non-believers in Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby due primarily to the easy time of it he had early in the Florida Derby, the fact is he came home the final three furlongs in a very strong :35 and change. It takes a serious equine athlete to come home that fast.
Maximum Security completed his Florida Derby journey in 1:48.86. Before you go ahead and cavalierly dismiss him in the Kentucky Derby, keep in mind that his final time last Saturday was better than three Florida Derby winners in the last 13 years who went on to win the Kentucky Derby: Barbaro, Orb and Nyquist.
Since Gulfstream enlarged the main track to 1 1/8 miles for its 2005 season, these have been the Florida Derby times, from fastest down to slowest:
1:47.47 (2017) Always Dreaming*
1:47.72 (2009) Quality Road
1:48.16 (2008) Big Brown*
1:48.79 (2012) Take Charge Indy
1:48.86 (2019) Maximum Security
1:49.00 (2007) Scat Daddy
1:49.01 (2006) Barbaro*
1:49.11 (2016) Nyquist*
1:49.17 (2014) Constitution
1:49.19 (2010) Ice Box
1:49.43 (2005) High Fly
1:49.48 (2018) Audible
1:50.74 (2011) Dialed In
1:50.87 (2013) Orb*
1:52.30 (2015) Materiality
*Won the Kentucky Derby
The fact that Maximum Security has put Beyer Speed Figures of 101 and 102 on the board this year is noteworthy, especially this year. Not any of the other 65 horses on the current Kentucky Derby points leaderboard has recorded a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or higher this year or ever.
Even if someone does receive a Beyer of 100 or higher between now and the Kentucky Derby, it is certain that Maximum Security will be the only horse in this year’s Run for the Roses to have ever recorded a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or higher more than once.
Maximum Security’s capacity to run fast enough to get a Beyer of 100 or higher also is significant when viewed in the context of what kind of figure it takes to win the Kentucky Derby. With the exception of California Chrome’s 97, it has always taken a 100 or higher to win the Kentucky Derby going back to 1989, the first year that Beyers for that race are listed in the American Racing Manual.
The Beyer Speed Figures in the American Racing Manual for the Florida Derby winners go back to 1992, as listed below.
2019 Maximum Security (101)
2018 Audible (99)
2017 Always Dreaming (97)
2016 Nyquist (92)
2015 Materiality (110)
2014 Constitution (98)
2013 Orb (97)
2012 Take Charge Indy (95)
2011 Dialed In (93)
2010 Ice Box (99)
2009 Quality Road (111)
2008 Big Brown (106)
2007 Scat Daddy (99)
2006 Barbaro (103)
2005 High Fly (102)
2004 Friends Lake (92)
2003 Empire Maker (108)
2002 Harlan’s Holiday (101)
2001 Monarchos (105)
2000 Hal’s Hope (102)
1999 Vicar (102)
1998 Cape Town (108)*
1997 Captain Bodgit (104)
1996 Unbridled’s Song (114)
1995 Thunder Gulch (101)
1994 Holy Bull (115)
1993 Bull Inthe Heather (94)
1992 Technology (101)
*Lil’s Lad finished first but was disqualified and placed second
IMPORTANT RACES COMING UP
A total of 170 qualifying points (100-40-20-10) were up for grabs in the Florida Derby. There are four more such races left to be decided, all at 1 1/8 miles. Three of them will be run Saturday: the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. A week later, Oaklawn Park will stage the Grade I Arkansas Derby.
Omaha Beach, ranked No. 1 on my Top 10, is headed to the Arkansas Derby. He had a sharp four-furlong workout in :47.80 last Saturday at Santa Anita for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. Omaha Beach most recently won a division of Oaklawn’s Grade II Rebel Stakes by a nose over Eclipse Award winner Game Winner.
Game Winner, No. 2 on my Top 10, heads Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. I have installed him as the 4-5 morning-line favorite. Roadster is 5-2. Instagrand is 3-1.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains both Game Winner and Roadster. Game Winner worked six furlongs Monday in 1:13.40 at Santa Anita. Roadster stepped the same distance in 1:12.80 when he worked last Saturday, also at Santa Anita.
Gary and Mary West own Game Winner. The Wests also race Maximum Security. Jason Servis conditions Maximum Security.
Improbable, ranked No. 4 on my Top 10, and Long Range Toddy, who is No. 5, are scheduled to join Omaha Beach and others in the Arkansas Derby. Long Range Toddy won a division of the Rebel by a neck over Improbable. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trains Long Range Toddy. Baffert conditions Improbable.
CURRENT STRIKES SITUATION
In addition to going into the Kentucky Derby with two Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or higher, Maximum Security has just one strike in the Derby Strikes System that I developed in 1999. The system consists of nine key factors. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. The nine key factors (or categories) are explained at the end of this column.
According to the Derby Strikes System, a horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. Going back to 1973, 38 of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or just one strike.
Six of the last 46 Kentucky Derby have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005) and Always Dreaming (2017).
It’s not impossible, but it is a tall task for a horse with more than two strikes to win the Kentucky Derby. Of the last 46 horses to win the Run for the Roses, only two horses have won with more than two strikes, Mine That Bird and Justify.
Maximum Security’s only strike comes in Category 6, the “racing experience” category. He will go into the Kentucky Derby having made just four career starts. I consider Category 6 to be by far the least important of the nine categories. That’s because horses do not race as much these days.
From 1973 through 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus was the only horse to get a strike in Category 6.
But from 2001 through 2018, seven horses -- Barbaro, Big Brown, Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah, Always Dreaming and Justify -- got a strike in Category 6 for making fewer than six starts before the Kentucky Derby.
Put another way, only 3.5% of the Kentucky Derby winners in the 28 years from 1973 through 2000 had a strike in Category 6. But 36.8% of the winners in the last 18 years from 2001 through 2018 had a strike in that category.
It is not until a horse’s next race will be the Kentucky Derby that a horse’s number of strikes can be determined.
These are strikes for a number of Kentucky Derby candidates, listed alphabetically, who are not scheduled to race again before the first Saturday in May:
Bodexpress (second in the Florida Derby) has two strikes (Categories 2 and 6).
By My Standards (winner of the Louisiana Derby) has one strike (Category 2).
Code of Honor (third in the Florida Derby) has one strike (Category 6).
Country House (fourth in the Louisiana Derby) has three strikes (Categories 2, 5 and 6).
Gray Magician (second in the UAE Derby) has one strike (Category 2).
Maximum Security (winner of the Florida Derby) has one strike (Category 6).
Plus Que Parfait (winner of the UAE Derby) has one strike (Category 7).
Spinoff (runner-up in the Louisiana Derby) has three strikes (Categories 2, 4 and 6).
War of Will (ninth in the Louisiana Derby) has one strike (Category 5).
WINNER’S STRIKES FROM 1973 THROUGH 2018
Here are the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973:
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 9
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2006 Barbaro (1 strike) Category 6
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2008 Big Brown (1 strike) Category 6
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2011 Animal Kingdom (1 strike) Category 6
2012 I’ll Have Another (1 strike) Category 6
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (1 strike) Category 6
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2017 Always Dreaming (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 6
2018 Justify (3 strikes) Categories 1, 6 and 8
THE CLAIMING-RACE STIGMA
One of the reasons a lot of people will be underestimating Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, just as many did in the Florida Derby, is he once ran in a maiden claiming race for a $16,000 tag.
Similarly, one of the reasons lots of folks did not like Charismatic in the 1999 Kentucky Derby was he had once run in a maiden claiming race for a $62,500 tag. Charismatic won that maiden claiming race by five lengths as a 2-year-old at Hollywood Park, but then lost seven straight before his 2 1/2-length victory in Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes. And then, two weeks after the Lexington, he won the Kentucky Derby at 31-1.
It is clear that many considered Charismatic’s Kentucky Derby triumph to have been a fluke, as evidenced by his 8-1 odds in the Preakness Stakes. The Kentucky Derby winner almost always is sent off as the favorite in the Preakness, yet Charismatic was a juicy 8-1.
I loved Charismatic in the Preakness. The primary reason I did not consider his Kentucky Derby to be a fluke was his Beyer Speed Figure pattern. Prior to the Kentucky Derby, Charismatic’s top Beyer had been a 94. Then he jumped all the way up to a 108 in the Lexington. The way I saw it, he validated his 108 Lexington figure by likewise recording a 108 in the Kentucky Derby.
I believe those who had looked at Charismatic’s Kentucky Derby performance as being a fluke missed the boat by evidently not also taking into account his effort in the Lexington. It was the back-to-back 108s, rather than just a lone 108, that put me strongly on him in the Preakness, particularly at 8-1. And Charismatic did win the Preakness, a race in which he was credited with a 107 Beyer.
I regard Charismatic’s $18.80 win mutuel in the Preakness to be one of the biggest overlays of the 1990s.
Again, as for Maximum Security, what makes him scary to me going into the Kentucky Derby are his back-to-back triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, much like Charismatic’s back-to-back triple-digit figures going into the Preakness.
I also am convinced that a contributing factor in terms of the lack of respect for Charismatic in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness was the stigma attached to him for having once run in a maiden claiming race.
I can cite yet another example of a racehorse who achieved considerable success after being stigmatized for a time early in his career largely because he had run in the maiden claiming ranks.
Turbulator finished second in a maiden claiming race for a $1,500 tag at Portland Meadows on June 16, 1969. Seven days later, he ran second in a maiden claiming race for a $2,000 tag at that same track. After those two defeats, however, Turbulator reeled off seven consecutive victories during the 1969 meet at Spokane’s Playfair Race Course. He won those seven races in nine weeks. You read that right. He started seven times in nine weeks, winning on each occasion while competing at distances ranging from six furlongs to two miles.
During Turbulator’s seven-race winning streak in 1969, there continued to be skeptics stemming from those losses in maiden claiming races at Portland Meadows. But by the end of the 1969 Playfair meet, Turbulator had turned just about all of the doubters into enthusiastic believers.
Turbulator in 1970 became a huge favorite with Pacific Northwest racing fans during a campaign in which he broke the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs by two-fifths of a second. He set two other track records that season. In one of his 1970 victories, he came from 20 lengths behind to win by two despite being burdened with 134 pounds. He lost another race by only a neck when asked to “carry the grandstand,” or 138 pounds to be exact. To this day, no other horse in the history of racing in the Pacific Northwest has carried as much as 138 pounds in a non-restricted stakes race.
Along with Turbulator’s considerable talent, he had unmistakable charisma.
“If there ever was a horse that brought sheer joy and hysteria to a track and thrived on that crowd response it was Turbulator,” it was written in The Washington Horse magazine in 1973.
To give you an idea of his immense popularity, at various times during his racing career, there were Turbulator T-shirts, coffee mugs, campaign buttons and refrigerator magnets. After his retirement from racing in 1974, he continued to make public appearances at Longacres and Playfair until he did so for the final time on Sept. 30, 1989. Turbulator died that year on Nov. 7, just three days after Sunday Silence won an epic Breeders’ Cup Classic.
This Saturday, April 6, will be an important day in racing, highlighted by the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial and Blue Grass Stakes. And for some fans of the sport, April 6 also was an important day in 1965, for that was the day Pacific Northwest racing legend Turbulator was born.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 341 Monomoy Girl (14)
2. 319 Bricks and Mortar (4)
3. 234 City of Light (19)
4. 213 Roy H
5. 192 McKinzie
6. 187 Midnight Bisou
7. 125 X Y Jet (1)
8. 105 Sistercharlie
9. 99 Coal Front
10 94 Thunder Snow (5)
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 388 Game Winner (24)
2. 339 Omaha Beach (4)
3. 331 Improbable (7)
4. 197 Long Range Toddy (2)
5. 195 Maximum Security (3)
6. 159 Tacitus (1)
6. 154 Code of Honor
8. 89 War of Will
9. 78 By My Standards
10. 73 Cutting Humor
DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
These are the nine key factors (or categories) in my Derby Strikes System:
1. THE GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Since the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions since the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE FACTOR. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 53 of the last 56 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second at the eighth pole in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS FACTOR. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION FACTOR. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE FACTOR. (The horse has had at least six lifetime starts before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the needed experience. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Grindstone in 1996, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, Barbaro in 2006, Big Brown in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2011, I’ll Have Another in 2012, American Pharoah in 2015, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah and Always Dreaming each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown and Justify had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS FACTOR. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
8. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018 are the only Kentucky Derby winners who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. Through 2018, the score is 142-2 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 1 for 63 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to win, place or show were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; Battle of Midway, third in 2017; and Justify, first in 2018.)
9. THE NOT A GELDING FACTOR. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)