Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
A day after serving up a reminder of the brilliance he displayed earlier in the spring, Gary and Mary West's Maximum Security was enjoying a well-deserved day of a rest in his Monmouth Park stall, complete with a couple of fans and a cooling blanket to shield him from the heat and humidity.
"Physically, he's 100 percent," trainer Jason Servis said July 21. "But he's tired. He laid down for quite a while this morning. He's a pretty tired puppy."
The homebred son of New Year's Day was back at the top of his game July 20 as he rebounded from the sting of having a rival finish in front of him for the first time to post a length victory in the $990,000, Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes for 3-year-olds on a humid day at Monmouth when the broiling heat stretched into the upper 90s.
While Maximum Security's record shows five wins in seven starts, one of the defeats came in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve when he was victorious by 1 ¾ lengths but was disqualified for interference and placed 17th.
Remove that from the mix and it leaves a runner-up finish in the June 16 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth, when he stumbled at the start, as the lone time someone finished in front of a horse whose career started in December in a $16,000 maiden claimer.
He also has two Grade 1 wins at 3, something the other leading candidates for the 3-year-old title lack and which points him out as the pro-tem division leader.
"If he's not the division leader, I don't know what it takes," Gary West said.
Though there was indecision in Servis' mind about running in the Pegasus, the race certainly seemed to have Maximum Security on edge for a sharp performance in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell, which was delayed to an 8:12 p.m. ET post time.
"He started cycling around into top form after the Pegasus," Servis said. "He's a good horse, and good horses make you look good."
The Xpressbet Florida Derby winner locked up a free spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic by capturing the Haskell, a Breeders' Cup Challenge Presented by America’s Best Racing qualifying race, but he might make an appearance in a 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 stakes prior to that.
The Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course is the next target, and Servis plans to send Maximum Security to the Spa as early as July 26 to prepare for the Aug. 24 Mid-Summer Derby. Being as cautious as ever, Servis said he would monitor Maximum Security's training over the next five weeks and probably decide during the week of the Travers whether his 3-year-old is ready for a third race in 69 days.
"I want to give him a few days and get some fluids into him," said Servis, who plans to race his other multiple Grade 1 winner, World of Trouble, in the Troy Stakes Aug. 3 at Saratoga. "I'll treat him like we're running and make a decision the week of the race if we're running."
Servis said the $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby Sept. 21 at Parx Racing is also an option, though he called the racing surface there "a little funny." He said he would want to work Maximum Security on the track before committing to run there.
"There's not many options left for him at this point in the year," Servis said.
Michael Lund Petersen's Mucho Gusto, who finished second to Maximum Security in the Haskell, may also be racing at Saratoga on Aug. 24, but not in the Travers. Trainer Bob Baffert said he'll decide between targeting the seven-furlong $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes Presented by Runhappy or the Pennsylvania Derby at the same 1 1/8-mile distance as the Travers.
"(Assistant trainer) Jimmy (Barnes) told me he looked good after the race, and he came out in great shape," said Baffert, an eight-time winner of the Haskell who remained in California. "He gave us a thrill. Michael Lund was pretty excited about him. He faced the best 3-year-old and ran right with him."
Though Mucho Gusto, a multiple grade 3-winning son of Mucho Macho Man whom Lund bought for $625,000 from the Kirkwood Stables consignment at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, will be sitting out the Travers, it doesn't mean Baffert will not have a rooting interest in a race that figures to have a huge say in who becomes the 3-year-old champion.
"I'm going," said Baffert, who has won two of the past three runnings of the Travers. "I'll be there."
Baffert will be in town with the Wests' other leading hopeful for the 3-year-old title, Game Winner.
The division's 2-year-old champion a year ago, Game Winner is coming off a sharp victory in the Los Alamitos Derby and seems to be on an upswing headed into a possible rematch with his stablemate. Game Winner had a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifth, and came out of the race with a sore back that sidelined him for a little more than months.
The Travers field will come into sharper focus with the running of two stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, the July 26 $100,000 Curlin Stakes for horses without a graded stakes win over a mile in 2019, and the $600,000, Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes the following day.
Gary Barber's Preakness Stakes winner War of Will and Juddmonte Farms' Tacitus, who was second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and third in the Kentucky Derby, head the list of candidates for the Jim Dandy.