By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Ten out of 11 starts sounds like a more-than-decent career record – but with Maximum Security, the bare stats hide the whole story as he arrives at his principal summer target, the Pacific Classic, signature contest at Del Mar.
As controversial as he is talented, the four-year-old heads the US cast list this weekend and, though he has barely been headed in three seasons of racing, Maximum Security has more than a few questions to answer.
Moreover, not only was he disqualified for interference in last year’s Kentucky Derby, but the four-year-old’s victory in the inaugural Saudi Cup remains under scrutiny after former trainer Jason Servis was indicted for the use of illegal drugs. As a result, the richest prize the sport has ever seen has yet to be distributed.
Switched to Bob Baffert, he made a winning debut for the trainer a month ago in the G2 San Diego Handicap – but only just, as he touched off Midcourt (John Shirreffs/Victor Espinoza).
While he may have needed the run, and gets a 5lb pull here over an extra furlong and a half against his opposing rival, it wasn’t the stuff of legend.
After a lacklustre effort six lengths away in third that day, last year’s Pacific Classic winner Higher Power (John Sadler/Flavien Prat) is expected to do much better over the extra distance, while cosmopolitan colour is added by Argentina-trained Mirinaque (Maria Nunos/Tiago Pereira), a dual Classic winner at home.
On the same card, the G1 Del Mar Oaks features the US debut for new connections of ex-French Group-winning pair Miss Extra and Neige Blanche.
Elsewhere, the Fourstardave at Saratoga is a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile – and the G1 event features a rematch between the 1-2-3 from the last edition of that race in which Uni (Chad Brown/Jose Ortiz) got home from Got Stormy (Mark Casse/Tyler Gaffalione) and former John Gosden-trained Royal Ascot winner Without Parole (Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz).
There’s a treat in store on Sunday at Saratoga when seven-time G1 winner Sistercharlie (Chad Brown/John Velazquez) seeks a hat-trick in the G1 Diana.
Brown also saddles Rushing Fall (Javier Castellano) as he bids to complete a five-timer in the $500,000 event, also set to feature up-and-coming Mean Mary (Graham Motion/Luis Saez) plus Starship Jubilee and Call Me Love – both in front of Sistercharlie on her seasonal debut here a month ago.
Shall we talk about it?
Del Mar: Pacific Classic G1 $500,000, 1m2f, dirt, 3yo+ (Sun 2.30am BST)
Higher Power: “The distance is the thing that’s going to increase our chances. His best races are a mile and a quarter – second in the Gold Cup, third in the Breeders’ Cup, winner of this race last year. He seems like he gets a little bit outfooted, especially at a mile and sixteenth. I think the distance is going to close the gap.” John Sadler, trainer (speaking to Daily Racing Form)
Maximum Security: “He’s been pretty sharp, feeling good, and doing well. I think he’s coming into it really well. I like the way he gutted it out that first out. I got to know the horse better. His last few works were really strong.” Bob Baffert, trainer (speaking to Blood Horse)
Saratoga: Fourstardave Hcap G1 $400,000 1m, turf, 3yo+ (Sat 10.46pm BST)
Got Stormy: “She’s training well and she’s back to Saratoga, which is where she did her best running last year, so we’re hoping for the best. We know she likes that course, we know that she likes firm turf. She’s got to come with her ‘A’ game. She’s the same horse, she looks great and trains great. She’s just been a little bit unlucky. She ran over some good turf courses and she wants it to be really firm.” Mark Casse, trainer
Uni: “She missed some time with a splint issue, and we stopped breezing for five or six weeks. She just had her best breeze of the year last week and we weren’t completely sure about this race – we were 50-50 between the Fourstardave and the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill, but the breeze is what gave Chad the confidence to run her, so she’s sitting on go.”
Bradley Weisbord, owners’ racing manager
Saratoga: Diana Stakes G1 $500,000 1m, turf, 4yo+ f/m (Sun 10.18pm BST)
Call Me Love: “She’s been training great. Not OK – great! I think the distance suits her well – a mile and a sixteenth to a mile an eighth is good for her. There might be some rain in the forecast and she’s run well on softer turf before, so we’re ready to go.” Christophe Clement, trainer
Mean Mary: “She’s been pointing to this race for a long time – with the Breeders’ Cup, I need to find out if she can handle these shorter distances. She certainly did before we started running her at these longer races, but not at this level. She’s trained really well for this race and hasn’t really missed a beat. It’ll be a small but solid group of horses she’s facing.”
Graham Motion, trainer