Saudi Arabia opened its arms — and its purse — to the racing world Feb. 29 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse and Maximum Security took maximum advantage of the offer.
Maximum Security, after tough battle in early stretch with Mucho Gusto, prevailed by three-quarters of a length over American filly Midnight Bisou to take the $10 million winner’s share of the $20 million purse for the inaugural Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race and a major step in the Saudi government’s effort to open the kingdom to other nations and cultures.
Dubai-based Benbatl finished third with a late rush that most likely will see him moving on to the Dubai World Cup in four weeks.
“It was a very impressive show today,” said winning rider Luis Saez. “That’s what the world was waiting for and we did it. He’s amazing and has a big heart.”
Mucho Gusto, who qualified for the race by winning the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy, held on for fourth but not before stirring Saez up a bit.
Mucho Gusto led much of the way in the 1,800-meter (about 1 1/8-mile) race, run left-handed around one turn. With Maximum Security closing on his outside, Mucho Gusto, under Irad Ortiz Jr., drifted out when tiring into the path of his rival. Saez altered course to the inside and Maximum Security gutted out the win.
“I don’t want to say too much,” Saez said. “I’m just glad we won the race.”
Winning trainer Jason Servis was more willing to discuss the issue.
“I was a little upset with Irad Ortiz,” Servis said. “He carried me out in the stretch and then came down on me. But that’s for another day.”
Mucho Gusto’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said of his horse, “I thought he had it. He just got a little short at the end. I think the track was better out in the middle and Irad was just trying to get there.”
The victory now moves to the top of the resume of Maximum Security, a 4-year-old New Year’s Day colt, displacing his disqualification from victory in the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. It also stands at the other extreme from his career debut when he was available for $16,000 claiming price in a Dec. 20, 2018, maiden claimer at Gulfstream Park — with no takers.
“This has got to be vindication,” Servis said, referring to the historic Kentucky Derby ruling, which placed Maximum Security 17th.
Maximum Security went on from the “no takers” claimer to win the Xpressbet Florida Derby and, after the Louisville mashup, the TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park and the Bold Ruler Handicap at Belmont Park before a win in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap. He lost U.S. Horse of the Year honors to turf specialist Bricks and Mortar but was crowned Eclipse Award champion as the year’s top 3-year-old male.
Owners Gary and Mary West sold a half-interest in Maximum Security to the Coolmore “lads” after his last race, a victory in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Dec. 7. The colt carried Coolmore silks for the first time in the Saudi Cup.
Coolmore partner M.V. Magnier said the organization is “very lucky people that Gary and Mary West let us into the horse.”
Neither Servis nor Magnier would be drawn into a discussion of plans going forward — especially the Dubai World Cup.
“We’ll have a conference call in the morning and go from there,” Servis said. “I don’t want to say anything more until I get back to the barn. He ran hard.”
Magnier said of Coolmore’s input into the decision, “He’s in good hands with Jason.”
The stretch run and the outcome of the race were reminiscent of the inaugural running 24 years earlier of the Dubai World Cup when American rivals Cigar and Soul of the Matter battled down the stretch before Cigar posted the win.
Tacitus was followed in order by Japan’s top two dirt horses, Gold Dream and Chrysoberyl. Coolmore’s globetrotting filly, Magic Wand, checked in ninth in her first effort on the dirt. Baffert’s other runner, McKinzie, finished a dull 11th, beating only three rivals.
“McKinzie, when he got behind there, I knew he wasn’t going to do it,” Baffert said, adding he will have to consider whether either of his runners will move along to Dubai.—Bob Kieckhefer