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Haskell Winner Deserves Respect

by Johnny D

July 27, 2019

After Saturday’s Haskell Stakes victory some might say that Maximum Security is back. I’d suggest he never left. As the nation’s most dominant 3-year-old since the Florida Derby, the son of New Year’s Day has been solid. His Kentucky Derby disqualification—justified or not—followed an indisputably outstanding effort in that race. He went as fast as needed early and kept going late. Additionally, there’s zero evidence that any horse in the Derby field ever was going to pass Maximum Security with or without interference.

So, why hasn’t this colt garnered more respect? He is the horse people love to hate—or at least love to criticize. His trainer Jason Servis employs an unorthodox conditioning method and wins races at an incredibly high percentage. That suggests, to some, that he must be cheating. Jockey Luis Saez also drew unfavorable vibes for his role in the Derby disqualification. Churchill stews found him enough at fault to warrant a severe 15-day suspension for careless riding. Maximum Security’s owners Gary and Mary West don’t currently raise warm and fuzzies, either. Possibly wrongly deprived of a Kentucky Derby victory the Wests continue to pursue legal relief. Few fans support that process. An ill-conceived, awkward post-Derby challenge emanating from their camp and directed toward fellow Derby runners seemed sour grapes. Maximum Security’s Preakness and Belmont absence added to the negativity.

Since each of the above criticisms can be debated—for example, the Wests have every right to pursue legal relief for the Derby decision—it all comes down to opinion. One either ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ Servis or the Wests. I get that. But what does any of that really have to do with Maximum Security the racehorse? He’s a talented horse with speed and stamina. He ought to be appreciated for his accomplishments and not slighted by how folks feel about his connections.

Maximum Security began his career as an entree on a maiden-claiming menu alongside a $16,000 price. Anyone could have ordered him as easily as bacon and eggs—crisp for the former and over-easy for the latter, please. That’s a far-from-textbook launch for a Florida and Kentucky Derby winner who also might ultimately claim an Eclipse Award. That the nation’s top 3-year-old first surfaced for about the same sticker price as a Ford Fiesta irks racing purists. It also adds strength to the undertow of negativity surrounding Servis. After all, how can a horse once offered for a mere $16,000 tag improve enough to win such prestigious races without his trainer taking an edge?

Reasons why the original Kentucky Derby winner first appeared at Gulfstream with a ‘For Sale’ sign hanging from his neck were frankly outlined by Ben Glass, racing manager for owners Gary and Mary West, on At the Races with Steve Byk. Among them were the following: The colt had some physical issues; Three months before Maximum Security’s Florida Derby victory, sire New Year’s Day, who previously stood for $5,000, had been sold to Brazilian interests. (Note: New Year’s Day, apparently, recently has been sold again, this time for $5 million, and will move from Brazil to Japan.); and ‘Security’s dam hadn’t produced anything notable.

Glass also noted that once the decision to run Maximum Security for a ‘tag’ had been made, trainer Servis suggested entering the colt for $16k instead of $30k. The trainer felt that starting for $30k might attract interest from potential buyers; at $16k they’d be ‘scared off.’ Brilliant! The $16k starting price proved radioactive. There were no takers and Maximum Security romped home.

By the way, a sure-fire way for trainers like Jason Servis to win at an incredibly high percentage is for them to start horses in races well-below their talent levels--like racing the eventual original Kentucky Derby winner in a $16,000 maiden event and then in pair of starter allowance races won by 6 1/2 and 18 1/2 lengths, respectively. That’s three effortless wins before a Florida Derby wire-to-wire victory.

Saturday, Maximum Security displayed a new dimension. Out of the gate he wasn’t able to clear five other foes from the furthest outside post position. Jockey Saez requested the colt relax while racing four-wide into the first turn. ‘Security responded in the affirmative and stalked the early pacesetters, while simultaneously being stalked himself by Haskell third-choice Mucho Gusto. Along the rail, King for a Day, the horse that had upset Maximum Security in the Pegasus last out, enjoyed a perfect trip...temporarily.

Into the far turn, matters developed. King for a Day was joined on the lead by Maximum Security as Mucho Gusto loomed outside. By about mid-turn, the trio were spread across the track and the race was on!

On the inside, King for a Day and Hall-of-Fame jockey John Velazquez had surrendered nearly a half-length advantage to the other pair. When the leaders reappeared in view from behind a clump of trees, Velazquez and King for a Day were headed in reverse. The jockey had checked his mount while reportedly in a tight spot and their race was over. (A steward’s inquiry into the incident resulted in no change to the original finish.) Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto continued forward with a quarter-mile’s worth of fight remaining.

It should be noted here that Mucho Gusto is trained by Bob Baffert and that the conditioner’s Haskell record is like Alabama coach Nick Saban’s in national title games— he’s almost always there and he usually wins!

Not this time. In the Haskell stretch Mucho Gusto hit Maximum Security with his best haymakers, but none put the original Derby winner on the mat. In fact, at the finish, it appeared as if Maximum Security had imposed his will upon the tormentor and had begun to move away from him.

This seemed a hard race on the winner, just like his previous two—the Derby and Pegasus. Maximum Security gives his all every time out and in seven starts another horse has finished in front of him just once. Previously assumed to be merely a speed horse, Saturday the colt showed the ability to rate if needed. His reputation for having a thirst for a street fight was enhanced. He doesn’t easily surrender.

What might happen with Maximum Security down the road in the Travers is something we’ll sort out closer to that event. In the meantime, we should abandon whatever biases we may maintain against his connections and give this colt props as the top dog in his division. Ruff-ruff!

Race On!