It surely did not wash away what happened on the first Saturday in May, but on the first Saturday in December Gary West was able to bask in the glow of a victory that filled him with pride.
At the end of the year that included a still-controversial disqualification in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve plus exhaustion after winning a Grade 1 stakes in scorching heat and then a bout of colic, Gary and Mary West’s Maximum Security closed out 2019 with a performance that — come January — may be deemed worthy of a champion.
Fending off a determined bid from Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run, Maximum Security drew off in the stretch and recorded a scintillating 3 ½-length victory against older horses in the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct to close out four graded stakes on the Dec. 7 card.
“It doesn’t make up for everything but it’s nice to win a Grade 1 race anywhere and the Cigar Mile is a pretty nice race to win. There are no complaints from me today,” said Gary West, who plans to continue his legal battle to have the stewards’ decision in the Kentucky Derby overturned.
For a homebred New Year’s Day colt who started his career last December in a humble $16,000 maiden claimer at Gulfstream Park, the Cigar Mile strengthened his bid for an Eclipse Award as the champion 3-year-old male.
With three Grade 1 wins this year, Maximum Security has won six of his eight starts in 2019 and the only time in his career a horse has finished in front of him came in June during a second-place finish in the TVG.com Pegasus Stakes.
“I don’t think anyone has the credentials he does,” Gary West said. “He’s demonstrated it throughout the whole year. He’s fought through some things and that was a pretty impressive race we just saw.”
Trainer Jason Servis admits to being biased, but he believes Maximum Security’s resume outshines that of Runhappy Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Code of Honor and two-time Grade 1 winner Omaha Beach, who will run Dec. 26 in the Grade 1, $300,000 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
“How do you not give it to him? Even if Omaha Beach wins the Malibu, I don’t think his form looks like our form,” Servis said.
Servis’ marvelous training job with Maximum Security was on full display Saturday as the 3-year-old turned in one of his best performances despite a long and grueling campaign.
Racing on a track so slow that the multiple Grade1-winning filly sprinter Spiced Perfection ran a half-mile in :49.09 and won the one-mile Go for Wand Stakes in 1:39.11 earlier on the card, Maximum Security ($4.60), the 13-to-10 favorite, and jockey Luis Saez set a comparatively quick pace of :22:80 and :46.17 in a field of 11.
Pressed throughout by Robert P. Donaldson’s Spun to Run, the 2-1 second choice who beat Omaha Beach in the Dirt Mile, Maximum Security never let his fellow 3-year-old get past him, spurting clear at the top of the stretch and maintaining a comfortable lead to the finish line. The 122-pound highweight covered the mile in 1:36.46 while winning for the seventh time in nine career starts and lifting his earnings to $1,801,900.
“He is a fighter. He will look any horse in the eye and he seems to relish a good fight,” Gary West said. “That was a fast time based on the track today.”
Spun to Run, a Hard Spun colt bred by Sabana Farm and bought by Donaldson for $64,000 from the DeMeric Sales consignment at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale, maintained his speed to the finish line. Third behind Maximum Security in the July 20 TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park when beaten by 9 ¼ lengths, the vastly improved colt ended up two lengths ahead of third-place finisher True Timber, who was second in last year’s Cigar Mile for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
“Maximum Security is a great horse,” said Juan Carlos Guerrero, who trains Spun to Run. “My horse ran his race. We just couldn’t beat him. I’m very proud of my horse.”
Up next for Maximum Security is trip to Florida for a date in the Jan. 25 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes with a yet to be disclosed purse.
“I would have to think I’m feeling good about it,” Servis said about the Pegasus. “He’s undefeated there.”
Not only did Maximum Security win his debut at Gulfstream Park — by 9 ¾ lengths -— he won his next three starts there as well, capped by a 3 ½-length score in the Grade 1 Xpressbet Florida Derby.
It’s an enviable record of success at the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track that may take on an even different look prior to the Pegasus. Two days before the race, the Eclipse Award winners will be announced at, yes, Gulfstream Park.