Evaluating Unbeaten Maximum Security’s Kentucky Derby Chances

Maximum Security won his fourth start without a defeat in the March 30 Florida Derby under jockey Luis Saez. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at Maximum Security, winner of the $1 million, Grade 1 Xpressbet Florida Derby on March 30 at Gulfstream Park.

Maximum Security handled a massive jump in class from a starter optional claiming race to the Grade 1 Florida Derby, winning by 3 ½ lengths while leading from start to finish. The old adage “pace makes the race” was a huge key in the Florida Derby as Maximum Security was unchallenged early while setting a measured pace and had plenty of stamina in reserve at the top of the stretch. Let’s take a closer look at this unbeaten colt’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve credentials.

maximum security

Bay Colt

Sire (Father): New Year's Day

Dam (Mother): Lil Indy, by Anasheed

Owners: Gary and Mary West

Breeders: Gary and Mary West (Ky.)

Trainer: Jason Servis

Ability: A homebred of Gary and Mary West, longtime owners-breeders in Thoroughbred racing, Maximum Security made his career debut in a $16,000 maiden claiming race at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 22. That’s right, he could have been claimed by anyone for that $16,000, but there were no takers that day and he led from start to finish in a 9 ¾-length runaway.

He subsequently was entered in the 2019 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale, but he was pulled from the sale before he entered the auction ring.

Instead, he made his second start on Jan. 24 at Gulfstream in a starter optional claiming race, in which he was not available for a claiming price. He rated in third early in the three-quarter-mile sprint before seizing command and pulling away to another dominant win by 6 ½ lengths.

For his first two starts at 6 ½ furlongs and six furlongs, he earned 93 and a 92 Equibase Speed Figures, respectively. His Brisnet Figures, 94 and 96, painted a somewhat rosier picture.

A front-running, 18 ¼-length romp followed in another starter optional claiming race going seven-eighths of a mile at Gulfstream on Feb. 20. Maximum Security recorded a new career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure and a 100 Brisnet figure. He also improved from an 83 Beyer Speed Figure to a 102 in his third start and earned a spot in the Xpressbet Florida Derby to determine if he was a viable Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve candidate.

The Florida Derby on March 30 was won in the first quarter-mile as Maximum Security streaked to the front from post position seven, angled over to the rail to save some ground under Luis Saez entering the first turn, and then settled into a comfortable rhythm. He coasted through the first quarter-mile in 24.42 seconds with a clear lead and a half-mile in an easy 48.98 seconds, the latter almost the exact time for his penultimate workout in preparation for the Florida Derby, meaning he was absolutely loaded by the time he entered the far turn. He picked up the pace for the next two quarter-mile splits – 23.92 seconds and 23. 44 seconds – but he did so with ease as evidenced by jockey Saez sitting like a statue on the pacesetter while Nik Juarez was doing everything he could to get the pressing Bodexpress to quicken.

Once Maximum Security surged clear entering the stretch, the race was in hand and he covered the final eighth of a mile in 12.52 seconds to win by 3 ½ lengths.

For his first try stretching out around two turns, Maximum Security earned a 102 Equibase Speed Figure, a career-top 102 Brisnet figure, a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, and a 116 TimeForm US rating.

While the Equibase Speed Figure represented a step back and was slower than ones earned by the top Derby candidates to date, both the Brisnet and Beyer numbers essentially paired his previous number and indicate he’s plenty fast enough compared with the other 3-year-olds, and also has a chance to improve with five weeks rest. His TimeForm rating similarly places him right in the thick of the top tier of Derby hopefuls in the 115-119 range.

Of course, the major concern is that Maximum Security earned the victory and the strong figures while allowed to dictate his own terms on the lead while essentially unchallenged for three-quarters of a mile. He might be able to clear the field in the Kentucky Derby to take the lead; however, since the inception of the Kentucky Derby points system for the 2013 edition, the average opening quarter-mile has been 22.73 seconds and the average half-mile has been 46.34 seconds. The slowest opening half-mile in those six editions was 47.37 seconds in 2014, which still was 1 3/5 seconds faster than the 2019 Florida Derby (or about eight lengths faster). The slowest opening quarter since 2013 was 23.24 seconds in 2015, which is about six lengths faster than this year’s Florida Derby. Thus, it’s pretty safe to conclude there is a very high likelihood that Maximum Security would need to run much faster early in the Kentucky Derby if he is intent on setting the pace.

Running style: Maximum Security has led from start to finish in three of his four races, but his second race does offer encouragement that he does not need the lead to have a shot to win. In that race (see replay below), he rated willingly in third on a muddy track and then accelerated on cue en route to an easy win. He has terrific natural speed – sprinter speed, really – but showed the stamina to carry it 1 1/8 miles in the Florida Derby. I would expect Maximum Security to be forwardly placed in the Kentucky Derby if he does not set the pace, and that presser/stalker style has accounted for the last five Derby winners. The caveat is that there will be, most likely, at least a half-dozen 3-year-olds jockeying for exactly the same position entering the first turn in the Derby on May 4.

Connections: In addition to Maximum Security, owners-breeders Gary and Mary West also race 2018 champion 2-year-old male Game Winner, last year’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. Game Winner ran second in the second division of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 16 and is expected to compete in his final Kentucky Derby prep race this weekend in the Santa Anita Derby.

Gary and Mary West made their fortune in the telecommunications industry and now operate West Health as well as the Gary and Mary West Foundation.

One of the major initiatives of the Gary and Mary West Foundation is creating and advancing new senior-focused models for healthcare.

The Wests have been involved in the Thoroughbred industry for more than 30 years and raced Maximum Security’s sire, New Year’s Day, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victor. Other standouts campaigned by the Wests include 2017 champion 3-year-old male West Coast, 2017 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes winner Actress, multiple Grade 1 winner Room Service, and Grade 1 winners Power Broker and Book Review.

Past stars for the Wests also include Dollar Bill, Buddha, Mass Media, High Limit, and Mongoose. The Wests are unplaced with three Kentucky Derby starters.

Jason Servis trains Maximum Security for the Wests and won the Black-Eyed Susan for them with the aforementioned Actress. Servis took out his trainer’s license in 2001 and reached the 1,000-win plateau on April 8, 2018, when Meant Tobe Mine won the ninth race at Gulfstream Park.

A Charles Town, W.Va., native, Servis earned his first graded stakes win in 2008 with American Border in the Grade 3 Violet Stakes at Monmouth Park. He has amassed 88 stakes wins and 15 graded stakes wins through April 1. He earned his first Grade 1 win in 2017 when Firenze Fire won the Champagne Stakes. Servis closed the Gulfstream Park meet that ended March 31 with a remarkable 35 winners from 77 starters for a 45 percent win rate.

Saez and Maximum Security. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The brother of John Servis, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2004 with Smarty Jones, Jason Servis finished 11th with Firenze Fire last year, his first Kentucky Derby starter.

Luis Saez rode Maximum Security for the first time in the Florida Derby. He came up one win short of winning the jockey title at the recently concluded winter-spring Gulfstream Park meet with 134 victories. He led the rider standings at that meet in 2017 and 2018. Saez has amassed 2,145 victories, including 191 stakes wins and 80 graded stakes victories, through April 1. A native of Panama City, Panama, Saez finished second in the 2018 Preakness aboard Bravazo. He is winless with six Kentucky Derby starters with a seventh aboard Brody’s Cause in 2016 his best result.

Pedigree: Maximum Security is from the second crop of 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day, by Street Cry. New Year’s Day did not race after winning the Juvenile, winning two of three career races. Maximum Security is the first graded stakes winner for New Year’s Day and his leading earner from 84 starters through April 1. Maximum Security is one of six stakes winners for his sire.

Maximum Security is out of the Anasheed mare Lil Indy, a winner at one mile and a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out.

Maximum Security’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Cresta Lil, by Cresta Rider, was a two-time stakes winner on the grass, winning one stakes at a mile and the other at 1 1/16 miles.

Clearly talented with four wins in as many starts, Maximum Security looks like a real wild card for this year’s Kentucky Derby. He figures to be a major factor in the early pace, but from a largely unproven sire with some bright spots on the bottom half of the pedigree, the 1 ¼-mile distance is a question. He also has only really faced quality horses once in the Florida Derby, and it’s hard to form a concrete conclusion from that race given he had an absolute dream trip with no adversity. The speed figures indicate Maximum Security is fast enough to compete with top 3-year-olds, but I prefer others at this point who have shown me they can look another horse in the eye in deep stretch and put them away.

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