A bout of colic caused Maximum Security to fall behind in his preparation last year, forcing him to miss a start in the 2019 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic.
This year he seems on course for the $7 million championship-defining race. Racing Aug. 22 at Del Mar in the $500,000 TVG Pacific Classic, he illustrated that he remains one of the world’s horses with a three-length triumph over Sharp Samurai.
With the Pacific Classic part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” program, he earned an automatic paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
Relative to a troubled trip in last month’s San Diego Handicap, when two rivals tag-teamed him early and he was shuffled back leaving the first of two turns, Maximum Security’s race in the Pacific Classic could not have gone much smoother. He effortlessly made the lead in the 1 1/4-mile race while under just mild pressure from Sharp Samurai, strolling through quarter-mile splits of :23.93, :47.98, and 1:12.37.
He began flicking his ears forward as the field raced down the backstretch, indicative of him traveling comfortably, and when Sharp Samurai and Higher Power eventually began to turn up the heat, he responded. He left the second turn in command, extended his lead to 1 1/2 lengths in midstretch, and was pulling away even more at the finish.
He completed the distance in 2:01.24, the fastest time in the Pacific Classic since Collected (2:00.70) in 2017. He paid $2.80 as the odds-on favorite.
Midcourt, who had set the pace in the San Diego before being caught by a nose by Maximum Security, ran evenly from a stalking position to grab third, 2 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up. He edged defending champion and fourth-place finisher Higher Power.
Prior to a purse reduction this year due to the business climate amid COVID-19, the Pacific Classic had been worth $1 million or more since its inception in 1991.
The victory gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a record-tying sixth Pacific Classic, matching the mark of the late Bobby Frankel. Baffert began training Maximum Security this spring after the colt’s former trainer, Jason Servis, was indicted on doping-related charges in March.
“He’s a top horse. People need to know he is the real deal,” Baffert said. “It’s a shame what he’s gone through. It’s not his fault, but he is a great horse.”
Baffert last won the Pacific Classic with Collected, who later finished second to eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“I felt a lot of pressure because I didn’t want to be the one to slow him down,” the trainer said in an interview on TVG. “But I got a healthy horse from the Wests. He just galloped around out there. He’s just built like a powerful horse and he’s light on his feet. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him because I’ve been chasing him. We were expecting something like this.”
Maximum Security became the sixth champion in the last 10 years to win the Pacific Classic, following Accelerate (2018), California Chrome (2016), Beholder (2015), Shared Belief (2014), and Acclamation (2011).
Red King Holds Off United in Del Mar Handicap
Red King kept his win streak alive and continued his upward progression with a win over odds-on favorite United in the $203,000 Del Mar Handicap Presented by The Japan Racing Association.
The 6-year-old by English Channel made a powerful early move under Umberto Rispoli up the backstretch in the 1 3/8-mile event, charging into contention at the three-eighths pole en route to his first Grade 2 victory. It was his third consecutive victory for trainer Phil D’Amato, on the heels of a June 21 San Juan Capistrano Stakes score that came after a May 24 win at the allowance level. D’Amato has won the Del Mar Handicap four years in a row and six times in the past seven years.
After tracking eighth behind tepid early quarter-mile fractions of :25.07, :49.94, and 1:15.09, Red King moved quickly on the outside past the half-mile pole to get the jump on United, who was saving ground in fifth on the rail. Red King ranged up into second as a mile went in 1:40.07, then took command from tiring front-runner North County Guy, who had battled for the early lead with Big Buzz.
United, who went off at odds of 7-10, missed the score by a head. Originaire was half a length back in third.
“I didn’t like how slow they were going, so I decided to move earlier today,” Rispoli said. “It takes a really good horse to do that, but I knew he had the stamina. I did this when I was riding in Europe. It was close at the finish because he was trying to pull himself up. I am very happy. This horse gave me a Grade 3 win in his last start, and today he gave me a Grade 2. I want to keep it going with him.”
Campaigned by Little Red Feather Racing, Gordon Jacobsen, and Philip Belmonte, Red King completed the demanding distance in 2:15.75 on a course rated firm and paid $10.60 on a $2 win ticket at 4.30-1 odds. He earned an expenses-paid berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf via the “Win and You’re In” Challange Series. Red King improved his record to seven wins, four seconds, and seven thirds from 28 starts with earnings of $398,115.—Claire Crosby
Red Lark Strikes at 19-1 in Del Mar Oaks
Heavy favorite Laura’s Light, entered off two consecutive graded wins this season, led into the homestretch before giving way to finish off the board.
After settling midpack under Drayden Van Dyke, Red Lark made a late run that carried her to victory in the 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-old fillies. The final time on firm turf was 1:48.64.
California Kook kicked home from the back of the pack for second, and Warren’s Showtime was third.
The Del Mar Oaks was the second victory in 12 starts for Red Lark. The Epaulette filly began her career as a juvenile in her native Ireland before she moved to Paddy Gallagher’s Southern California stable for her sophomore season.—Christine Oser