Maximum Security wins Pacific Classic at Del Mar

Maximum Security, a favorite whipping boy of many racing fans on social media after he won last month’s Grade II San Diego Handicap by only a nose, scored a three-length victory over a game Sharp Samurai on Saturday in the $500,000 Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Maximum Security went gate to wire, carving out fractions of 23.93, 47.98 and 1:12.37 en route to a final clocking of 2:01.24 for the 1 1/4 miles under Abel Cedillo. He led by a half-length most of the way around, led by 1 1/2 lengths at the head of the stretch and then drew away in the final eighth of a mile.

“He’s never lost respect. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him because I was chasing him earlier,” said Baffert, who tied the late Bobby Frankel for the most Pacific Classic victories with six.

“I chased him last year and I couldn’t beat him. I chased him in Saudi Arabia (Saudi Cup) and he showed to me, that was one of the best races where he was beat and he just willed it.”

Maximum Security, sent postward Saturday as the prohibitive 2-5 favorite, joined the Baffert barn earlier this year after his previous trainer, Jason Servis, was indicted for alleged doping. Last year he became the only horse to cross the wire first in the Kentucky Derby and be disqualified for interference.

“What this horse has been through, the Wests (co-owners Gary and Mary West), what they’re been through with this horse … and (none of it) is the horse’s fault,” Baffert said. “I felt a lot of pressure because I don’t wanna be the guy that slows him down. As a trainer, to me, it was a challenge, but I got a really healthy horse when they sent him to me.

“There was never any doubt since I started training him that he’s a really good horse, and you saw it today. He just galloped around there and he came back and didn’t take a deep breath. That’s the kind of horse he is, just a powerful horse. Once he broke, I saw him out there and he was just galloping around the track, and the great ones do that.”

The 4-year-old son of New Year’s Day broke alertly and never appeared in danger of losing as he won for the 10th time in 12 starts and surpassed the $12 million mark in earnings. It was his fifth Grade I victory and eighth graded-stakes victory. He won three Grade I stakes last year, including the Florida Derby, Haskell Invitational and Cigar Mile and was voted an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top 3-year-old male.

“I’ve learned a lot about him, I figured him out on my own, and I have a great team,” Baffert said. “We were expecting something like this. I knew he could get it done as long as something drastic didn’t happen at the start.”

Sharp Samurai, a 10-1 longshot who has been racing exclusively on turf since 2017 and hasn’t won since October 2018, held second by 2 3/4 lengths over third-place finisher Midcourt (7-1). It was Midcourt who gave Maximum Security all he could handle in the San Diego Handicap.

Higher Power, trying to become only the fourth horse to win back to back Pacific Classics, had to settle for fourth this year after winning last year’s edition by 5 1/4 lengths at 9-1 odds. He was the 9-2 second choice Saturday in a six-horse field that was the smallest since 2003 when only four went postward.

Cedillo, who stood up in the saddle and waved his right arm while crossing the wire, said Maximum Security is the best horse he’s ridden.

“He just galloped around the track,” Cedillo said. “I was a little surprised that the outside horse (Sharp Samurai) was with us early and he stuck around. He ran big, but whenever he would get close, my horse would pull away on his own. He still had a little left at the end.”

Gary West said he had tears in his eyes.

“He looked so comfortable out there,” he said. “There were a lot of good horses in that race, especially last year’s winner. Sharp Samurai stuck with us, but we were best. I’m really proud of him.”

For Baffert, it was his record 137th Del Mar stakes victory.

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