by Jon White
March 5, 2020
Can you imagine how long the line would be if Maximum Security were to show up in a $16,000 claiming race now? That sure would be a sight to see. The line probably would stretch for furlong after furlong.
Maximum Security could have been claimed for just $16,000 at Gulfstream Park when he made his first career start on Dec. 20, 2018. Fortunately for owners Gary and Mary West, there were no takers.
That same horse nobody wanted to claim for $16,000 earned $10 million in one day at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in the Middle East last Saturday for the Wests and trainer Jason Servis. Maximum Security won the new $20 million Saudi Cup, the richest horse race ever run on the planet.
While racing under the Wests’ silks last year, Maximum Security finished first in seven of eight starts. The only time he did not finish first last year, he stumbled at the start and had to settle for second behind King for a Day in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park in June.
As you no doubt know, Maximum Security made history in 2019 on the first Saturday in May. He finished first by 1 3/4 lengths in the Grade I Kentucky Derby, but then was disqualified and placed 17th by the stewards. Maximum Security had his number taken down when the stewards ruled that he had drifted out and caused interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. I think the sport was extremely lucky that Maximum Security did not trigger a major spill when he veered out and caused interference on the far turn in the Kentucky Derby.
In a bit of irony, this time it was Maximum Security who was victimized when having to deal with a horse -- Mucho Gusto -- not maintaining a straight course during the stretch run of Saudi Cup, a race contested at 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) around one turn.
With Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle, Mucho Gusto was a pace factor from the beginning. Maximum Security, ridden by Luis Saez, sat menacingly within close attendance of the lead through the early stages.
Turning into the stretch, Mucho Gusto had a clear advantage. His closest pursuer was Maximum Security. At that point it looked like Mucho Gusto might well be on his way to another lucrative victory after capturing the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25.
Mucho Gusto then drifted out badly in upper stretch. With a little more than 200 meters to go, it appeared that Mucho Gusto, while drifting out, was about 1 1/2 lengths in front of Maximum Security. Saez wisely elected to alter course to the inside of Mucho Gusto. It is likely that Saez felt the need to do that or risk having Mucho Gusto possibly carry Maximum Security all the way out to the outside rail.
With Maximum Security now racing to the inside of Mucho Gusto, Maximum Security came on to reach virtual even terms for the lead about 150 meters out. Mucho Gusto then came over and looked like he nearly made contact with, or possibly made slight contact with, Maximum Security. But Maximum Security was undaunted by the actions of Mucho Gusto. Maximum Security surged to the front in the final 100 meters and reached the finish three-quarters of a length in front.
The way I saw it, Ortiz did not make the proper effort to maintain a straight course while coming down the stretch on Mucho Gusto.
“I was a little upset with Irad Ortiz,” Servis was quoted as saying in Bob Kieckhefer’s Saudi Cup recap for BloodHorse. “He carried me out in the stretch and then came down on [Maximum Security].”
Servis also said “this has to be vindication,” implying it was an injustice that Maximum Security was disqualified in the Kentucky Derby. A number of others also have termed the Saudi Cup as vindication for the colt.
Look, I realize that Maximum Security’s DQ in the Kentucky Derby was a bitter pill to swallow for the Wests, Servis and Saez (plus anyone who bet on Maximum Security). But in my opinion, it was Saez and Maximum Security who bear responsibility for Maximum Security being disqualified in the Kentucky Derby. If they had simply stayed in their lane on the far turn, they would not have been DQ’d.
How about this what if? What if Maximum Security had finished second behind Mucho Gusto in the Saudi Cup after Mucho Gusto had run all over the track and negatively impacted Maximum Security’s trip? I am quite sure that the Wests, Servis and Saez would have cried “foul” and called for Mucho Gusto to be disqualified for his actions.
But even though Mucho Gusto and Ortiz did not run straight during the stretch run, Maximum Security and Saez did manage to overtake them and came away with the biggest equine payday in the history of Thoroughbred racing.
After Maximum Security’s win in the Cigar Mile toward the end of last year, he was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. Between the Cigar Mile and Saudi Cup, the Wests reportedly sold a half-interest in the Kentucky-bred New Year’s Day colt to Coolmore. Maximum Security raced under Coolmore’s silks for the first time in the Saudi Cup.
Midnight Bisou, the Eclipse Award-winning older female of 2019, ran a terrific race in the Saudi Cup. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred Midnight Lute mare, ridden by Mike Smith, rallied from far back and finished second while facing males for the first time. Mucho Gusto weakened late and ended up fourth when edged for third by Dubai-based Benbatl. A big disappointment was McKinzie, who never threatened and finished 11th in the field of 14.
The day before the Saudi Cup, Smith earned a $30,000 bonus for winning Saudi Arabia’s International Jockeys Challenge. However, after riding for two days in that country last week, Smith was suspended for a total of 11 days and received a huge fine.
Riding penalties in Saudi Arabia certainly are considerably more severe than here in the United States. Cited for excessive use of the riding crop on Midnight Bisou in the Saudi Cup, Smith was handed a nine-day suspension and also had to forfeit 60% of the $350,000 he would have collected for his share of the $3.5 million that Midnight Bisou earned for finishing second. That amounted to a $210,000 fine for Smith. A jockey in Saudi Arabia can be fined for an amount up to 100% of what the rider is to receive from his or her share of what their mount earned from the purse.
Smith received an additional two-day suspension for failing to weigh in after the fifth race. That increased his total Saudi Arabian suspension to 11 days.
Phil Tuck, stipendiary steward for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, told the Racing Post that all riders had been briefed on the rules and penalties prior to racing there last week.
Smith conceded that did happen, but he nevertheless feels the suspension and fine are out of line. He responded to the suspension and fine for his ride on Midnight Bisou in a BloodHorse story written by Byron King.
“By no means do I feel that the way I rode her was excessive,” Smith said. “I might have passed a number [of strikes with the riding crop] a little bit, but that was it. I never put her or anyone else in harm. To receive that many days of a suspension is brutal enough.”
Smith went on to say that he feels “the punishment doesn’t fit the crime” in terms of the suspension and $210,000 fine.
“They’ll come in and explain stuff to you,” Smith said. “You understand it, but you don’t. Like excessive? What’s excessive? I got a day added because I hit off stride -- I don’t even know what that means.”
Ortiz also was heavily sanctioned in Saudi Arabia. He was hit with an eight-day suspension for excessive use of the riding crop in Friday’s eighth race, then was suspended for an additional two days for committing the same offense on Mucho Gusto in the Saudi Cup. Ortiz also was fined 10% of his share of the prize money he was to receive in those two races.
Maximum Security, Midnight Bisou and McKinzie are scheduled to return to the United States and will not run in the $12 million Dubai World Cup on March 28. Mucho Gusto is headed to the Dubai World Cup, as is U.S.-based Tacitus, who finished fifth in the Saudi Cup for trainer Bill Mott.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THROUGHBRED POLL
Maximum Security had been No. 2 behind Mucho Gusto in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll on Feb. 18 and Feb. 24. Both weeks I had put Maximum Security at No. 1 on my ballot.
Following Maximum Security’s Saudi Cup victory, he takes over the top spot this week when he received all but one of the 43 first-place votes. Midnight Bisou got a single first-place vote. I can’t help wondering why someone would cast their first-place vote for Midnight Bisou after she was defeated by Maximum Security last Saturday. Is that voter aware of what happened in the Saudi Cup?
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 422 Maximum Security (42)
2. 369 Midnight Bisou (1)
3. 311 Mucho Gusto
4. 276 Zulu Alpha
5. 161 Mr. Freeze
6. 114 Code of Honor
7. 101 Firenze Fire
8. 63 Hard Not to Love
9. 61 McKinzie
10. 58 Silver Dust
BAFFERT-TRAINED DUO TOPS SAN FELIPE STAKES
The strength of this Saturday’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes, which has drawn a field of seven, is reflected by the fact that four of the entrants in the 1 1/16-mile affair at Santa Anita are on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who currently is loaded with Kentucky Derby prospects, will have a strong one-two punch consisting of the undefeated colts Thousand Words and Authentic.
No. 3 on my Top 10, Thousand Words is three for three. He won the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity last year and Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 1 in his first 2020 start.
Thousand Words is a Kentucky-bred Pioneerof the Nile colt. American Pharoah, a Kentucky-bred Pioneerof the Nile colt trained by Baffert, swept the Triple Crown five years ago.
In 2009, Pioneerof the Nile won the Lewis, San Felipe and Grade I Santa Anita Derby before finishing second to 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird in the Grade I Kentucky Derby.
No. 5 on my Top 10, Authentic is two for two. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race by 1 1/2 lengths when he kicked off his racing career last Nov. 9 at Del Mar. He then took Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes by nearly eight lengths on Jan. 4.
Authentic did not run a straight course during the stretch run in the Sham when racing greenly while far in front. He has not exhibited any such goofy behavior in his seven recorded workouts since the Sham.
Honor A.P., who is No. 4 on my Top 10, and Storm the Court, who is ranked No. 10, also are entered in the San Felipe.
Mike Smith has been given the okay to ride Saturday at Santa Anita, including Honor A.P. in the San Felipe.
Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen reports that beyond Saturday, Smith “faces an uncertain riding schedule in March while awaiting clarification of a riding suspension issued in Saudi Arabia last Saturday for excessive use of the whip on runner-up Midnight Bisou in the $20 million Saudi Cup.”
Smith, according to Andersen, is scheduled to serve the first two days of his 11-day suspension on consecutive Fridays, March 6 and March 13.
“It was not clear on Wednesday morning when the remaining days would be served, and whether Smith would be eligible to ride designated races, often graded stakes, during the suspension,” Andersen wrote.
John Shirreffs trains Honor A.P. When the Kentucky-bred Honor Code ridgling made his career debut at Del Mar last Aug. 17, he closed with a rush after being far back early to finish second in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race won by Ginobili.
That’s the same Ginobili who ran second to the highly regarded Nadal (No. 2 on my Top 10) in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 9. Nadal, yet another undefeated 3-year-old colt at the powerful Baffert barn, is scheduled to make his next start in Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 14.
The door was opened for Joel Rosario to pick up the mount on Storm the Court in the San Felipe because Flavien Prat opted to stick with Thousand Words. This will be the first race in which Prat doesn’t ride Storm the Court.
In Storm the Court’s final 2019 start, he won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in a 45-1 shocker at Santa Anita on Nov. 1. The Kentucky-bred Court Vision colt subsequently was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
Storm the Court finished fourth when making his 2020 debut in the aforementioned San Vicente. Gary West (the veteran journalist, not the owner of Maximum Security) noted that with that performance, Storm the Court “dashed many of the high expectations that had accompanied him into the season.”
West wrote that in his view, “Storm the Court’s San Vicente looks like the perfect start to the campaign. His effort there was much better than some might be willing to acknowledge, and, in fact, he might have won the race had he drawn an inside post position. A wide trip cost him more than the 2 1/2 lengths that were the margin of his defeat. He should be poised to take a significant step forward when he returns.”
In my opinion, regardless of what post position he began from, Storm the Court was not going to beat Nadal in the San Vicente. I just do not believe Storm the Court is fast enough to beat Nadal in a seven-furlong race. However, I think West might be onto something when making the point that Storm the Court’s San Vicente should not be judged too harshly under the circumstances.
ETE INDIEN CRUSHES FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH FOES
In the wake of what happened in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park last Saturday, Ete Indien debuts on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week at No. 6, while Dennis’ Moment drops off the list after being No. 4 last week.
When Ete Indien won the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth by 8 1/2 lengths, it flattered Tiz the Law, who is No. 1 on my Top 10. Ete Indien finished second, three lengths behind Tiz the Law, in Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 1.
Here is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week:
1. Tiz the Law
3. Thousand Words
4. Honor A.P.
6. Ete Indien
9. Sole Volante
10. Storm the Court
Ete Indien, trained by Patrick Biancone, won the Fountain of Youth despite breaking from post 10. That’s a poor post position in a 1 1/16-mile race at Gulfstream due such a short run to the first turn. Cognizant of the situation, jockey Florent Geroux gunned Ete Indien early. Ete Indien and Geroux quickly got clear and angled down to the inside rail going into the first turn.
In the vast majority of cases, after Ete Indien had to expend so much energy early, it would have taken a toll on him toward the end of the race. But Ete Indien, the third choice in the wagering, actually drew off in the lane. His final time was 1:43.02. Candy Tycoon, off at 23-1, lacked early speed, never threatened and finished second in the field of 10. As Seen On Tv, the 5-2 second favorite, came in third, a neck behind Candy Tycoon.
According to Biancone, Gulfstream’s Grade I Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles on March 28 is next for Ete Indien. That is expected to give Ete Indien the opportunity for revenge against Tiz the Law.
Chance It would have started from post 11 if he had stayed in the Fountain of Youth. But he was withdrawn and instead will run in this Saturday’s Grade II Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.
A half-mile into the Fountain of Youth, Dennis’ Moment was only three lengths off the pace when sixth. But he faltered badly in the final three furlongs and wound up last as the 13-10 favorite. It was a dismal performance that left trainer Dale Romans baffled. Dennis’ Moment finished 25 1/4 lengths behind Ete Indien.
“Nothing has shown up yet,” Romans said Sunday morning to Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman. “We’re working on it. Very puzzled so far.”
Romans, Privman reported, said an endoscopic examination showed Dennis’ Moment did not bleed.
“He ate every oat. It really is confusing,” Romans said. “I’ve never had one run like that where something didn’t come up at some point.
“We’ll figure it out,” the trainer added. “I’m not giving up on him.”
However, the panel determining the 23 individual horses in this week’s Pool Three of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager did give up on Dennis’ Moment as he was left out.
The poor performance by Dennis’ Moment in the Fountain of Youth follows his BC Juvenile debacle in which he stumbled badly at the start and trailed throughout. Dennis’ Moment finished eighth as the 9-10 favorite in the BC Juvenile, 21 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Storm the Court.
Dennis’ Moment posted Beyer Speed Figures of 97 in his 19 1/4-length maiden romp at Ellis Park last July 27, then 90 when he won the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs in September. But in his two starts since the Iroquois, his Beyers have been 53 in the BC Juvenile and 58 in the Fountain of Youth.
Ete Indien was credited with a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure for his Fountain of Youth triumph. His previous top figure had been a 95 Beyer when he finished second to Tiz the Law in the Holy Bull.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for the Fountain of Youth winners going back to 1992:
2020 Ete Indien (97)
2019 Code of Honor (95)
2018 Promises Fulfilled (96)
2017 Gunnevera (97)
2016 Mohaymen (95)
2015 Itsaknockout (88)
2014 Wildcat Red (101)
2013 Orb (97)
2012 Union Rags (95)
2011 Soldat (96)
2010 Eskendereya (106)
2009 Quality Road (113)
2008 Cool Coal Man (98)
2007 Scat Daddy (96)
2006 First Samurai (94)+
2005 High Fly (99)
2004 Read the Footnotes (113)
2003 Trust n Luck (106)
2002 Booklet (103)
2001 Songandaprayer (101)
2000 High Yield (101)
1999 Vicar (97)
1998 Lil’s Lad (113)
1997 Pulpit (104)
1996 Built for Pleasure (100)
1995 Thunder Gulch (105)
1994 Dehere (99)
1993 Storm Tower (96)*
1993 Duc d’Sligovil (94)*
1992 Dance Floor (98)
+Corinthian finished first but was disqualified and placed third
*Run in divisions
2020 HALL OF FAME FINALISTS REVEALED
Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan tops 11 finalists on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot in an announcement made Monday.
Wise Dan won 23 of 31 lifetime starts and earned $7,552,920. He was voted Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013.
Five other horses are on this year’s ballot. They are, alphabetically, Blind Luck, Game On Dude, Havre de Grace, Kona Gold and Rags to Riches.
Retired jockey Corey Nakatani also is on the ballot, as are trainers Mark Casse, Christophe Clement, Doug O’Neill and David Whiteley.
This year’s 11 finalists were selected from a total of 91 candidates that had been suggested to the nominating committee. Hall of Fame voters may select as many of the 11 finalists as they believe are worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame. All finalists that receive higher than 50% support from those who cast ballots will be elected.
The 2020 class of inductees will be revealed on May 6. Also on that date will be the announcement of those selected by the Hall of Fame’s historic review and Pillars of the Turf committees. The induction ceremonies will be held on Aug. 7 at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where the Hall of Fame is located.
Two of the six horses on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot are on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America. Wise Dan ranks No. 84. Rags to Riches is No. 89.
Wise Dan is on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility. Rags to Riches was a Hall of Fame finalist last year for the first time.
I strongly believe 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches belongs in the Hall of Fame. The biggest stumbling block seems to be that she made only seven career starts.
But keep in mind Justify made just six career starts. Even though Justify did not race more than that, I’d say it’s a slam-dunk that the undefeated Triple Crown winner will be elected to the Hall of Fame when he first becomes eligible in 2024. Justify will go into the Hall of Fame mainly for his monumental feat of sweeping the Triple Crown. All 12 previous Triple Crown winners are in the Hall of Fame.
Rags to Riches raced just seven times, but in a tremendous achievement, she became the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years.
When Rags to Riches won the Belmont, she did so despite stumbling at the start and racing wide. Finishing second was none other than Curlin, who would be voted Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008. Curlin entered the Hall of Fame in 2014.
Rags to Riches is one of only four fillies to have won a Triple Crown race in the last 96 years! The four fillies are Genuine Risk (who won the 1980 Kentucky Derby), Winning Colors (1988 Kentucky Derby), Rags to Riches (2007 Belmont Stakes) and Rachel Alexandra (2009 Preakness).
Genuine Risk, Winning Colors and Rachel Alexandra are all in the Hall of Fame.
Despite making only seven career starts, Rags to Riches managed to win more Grade I races than both Genuine Risk and Winning Colors.
The number of Grade I victories by the four fillies to have won a Triple Crown race in the last 96 years is listed below:
5 Rachel Alexandra
4 Rags to Riches
3 Winning Colors
2 Genuine Risk
I really hope this is the year that Rags to Riches gets what she richly deserves and joins Genuine Risk, Rachel Alexandra and Winning Colors in the Hall of Fame.