Anyone who considered dropping a claim slip on Gary and Mary West’s Maximum Security when he made his career debut in a $16,000 claiming race and didn’t, probably had a sleepless night March 30.
The homebred colt went unclaimed in that Dec. 20 race at Gulfstream Park, staying in the charmed hands of trainer Jason Servis, and his 9 3/4-length maiden win proved to be only the top of iceberg in terms of what was to come.
After two wins in starter races by a combined margin of 24 3/4 lengths, the son of New Year’s Day made the jump from a maiden claimer to a Grade 1 stakes winner look easy as Maximum Security grabbed the lead in the Grade 1, $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and did not stop running until he was on the road to Louisville.
The fleet former claimer posted a decisive 3 1/2-length victory under Luis Saez to earn 100 points on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and secure a spot in the starting gate for the May 4 run for the roses, most likely as a stablemate for the Wests’ 2018 champion 2-year-old male Game Winner, who is trained by Bob Baffert.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
“I guess I’ll have to postpone my fishing trip [on Kentucky Derby weekend],” deadpanned Servis, who noted that when he called Gary West after the Florida Derby he could hear Baffert gleefully talking about getting a pacesetter for Game Winner at Churchill Downs.
Maximum Security ($11.60) looked like anything but a rabbit in the Florida Derby, though the result was puzzling beyond the victory by a horse that could have been bought for $16,000 just three months ago. Finishing second was a maiden Bodexpress, who went off at 71.50-1 odds.
With 40 points going to the runner up, Bodexpress should have enough points to start in the Kentucky Derby if trainer Gustavo Delgado gives the son of Bodemeister the green light.
Behind the maiden and the former maiden claimer came the heroes of the Grade 2 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes, Code of Honor and Bourbon War, who finished a nonthreatening third and fourth, 3 1/4 lengths behind Bodexpress, as the speed horses dominated the 1 1/8-mile race.
Will Farish’s Code of Honor had a Kentucky Derby spot wrapped up with 54 points coming into the Florida Derby and added 20 points to his total.
“I thought we were done in the turn and he kind of kept going. I think he tried to get him going early because he could see what was going on. It just didn’t work out. I’m not overly disappointed with the way he ran,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “We’ll see how he comes out of it and go from there.”
Boubon Lane Stable and Lone Star Stable’s Bourbon War, who made a menacing move on the turn but lacked a late kick, picked up 10 points and has 31 points, putting him 15th in the running for a maximum of 20 spots with four 100-40-20-10 stakes and one 20-8-4-2 stakes left on the schedule and the possibility of starters from both Europe and Japan entering the mix.
Favored Hidden Scroll disappointed for the second time after breaking his maiden by 14 lengths. Juddmonte Farms’ son of Hard Spun, who was fourth in the Fountain of Youth after setting the pace, rated in fourth then third behind Maximum Security in the early stages and then came up empty, finishing sixth at the 9-5 betting choice.
“We’ll start over, which is probably what most sensible trainers would have done in the very beginning anyway,” trainer Bill Mott said. “We probably bit off more than we could chew and we’ll kind of start over.”
There were some who thought Servis had bitten off more than he could chew by entering Maximum Security in a Grade 1 stakes, but clearly he knew what had in the speedy colt … and how fortunate he was that no one dropped a claim slip last December.
The victory assured the undefeated Maximum Security (4-for-4) of a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” trainer Jason Servis said about the victory by the homebred New Year’s Day colt.
The Florida Derby has produced 24 winners of the Kentucky Derby, the most of any prep race. The most recent Florida Derby runner to capture the Kentucky Derby is Always Dreaming, who won both stakes in 2017.