Maximum Security had a year most owners and trainers would run with, culminating in his coronation as the year’s 3-year-old Male Eclipse Award Champion. But everyone who saw Maximum Security run knew he didn’t get the maximum out of his considerable talent.

Maximum Security winning 2019 Florida Derby
Maximum Security, seen here with jockey Luis Saez winning the 2019 Florida Derby, has only been beaten across the finish line once. He is the favorite for Saturday’s $20 million Saudi Cup. (Image: Adam Coglianese)

That considerable talent, more than anything he did or didn’t do in 2019, has Maximum Security as the 5/2 morning line favorite for this weekend’s Saudi Cup.

The Saudi Cup, added to the international schedule just last year, runs on Saturday at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh. The 1 1/8-mile race on dirt comes with a $20 million purse, making it the richest horse race in the world. The winner will take home $10 million.

“They’re telling me he’s going to be one of the favorites, but I’m not going over there feeling like I’m the horse to beat or anything,” trainer Jason Servis told Thoroughbred News Service. “There are some good horses in there, some damn good trainers, and it’s a lot of money.”

Humble Beginnings

Indeed, competing for that purse is light years from where Maximum Security was at this time last year. He had won his first four races, beginning with a $16,000 maiden claimer in late 2018 and segueing through two starter allowances, and the Florida Derby last winter.

Maximum Security Disqualified
Horse racing’s landmark 2019 moment: Maximum Security and jockey Luis Saez (pink silks) interfering at the top of the stretch of the Kentucky Derby. Maximum Security was disqualified and placed 17th. (Image: Getty Images)

But Maximum Security will always be known as the horse who won – then didn’t win – the Kentucky Derby. His disqualification for interference became 2019’s landmark moment in the sport. At the same time, it became a key moment in Maximum Security’s 3-year-old season.

As a result of the DQ, Maximum Security exited the Triple Crown trail, passing on the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. For various reasons, ranging from a colon issue to scheduling, he missed three other Grade 1 races that would have showcased his tremendous ability to set the pace and close: the Travers, the Pennsylvania Derby, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

When Maximum Security did run, everything fell into place. After finishing second to King for a Day at the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park in mid-June – the only time in nine career races a horse has finished in front of him — he reeled off three consecutive wins. Two of those were Grade 1s: the Haskell at Monmouth in July and the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in early December. Those sandwiched a win in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler at Belmont in late October.

2020 Saudi Cup Odds

  1. Gold Dream 20/1
  2. Tacitus 12/1
  3. Benbatl 10/1
  4. North America 30/1
  5. Gronkowski 20/1
  6. Midnight Bisou 8/1
  7. Maximum Security 5/2
  8. Mucho Gusto 10/1
  9. McKinzie 7/2
  10. Chrysoberyl 12/1
  11. Great Scot 50/1
  12. Magic Wand 15/1
  13. Capezzano 20/1
  14. Mjjack 50/1

Closing Kick to 2019

Those three races not only effectively nailed down an Eclipse Award as 3-year-old Male Champion, but also displayed Maximum Security’s talent. In the seven-furlong Bold Ruler, he broke from the rail post and turned back True Timber’s final challenge at the final turn en route to a two-length victory and impressive 106 Beyer Speed Figure.

In the Cigar Mile, like the Bold Ruler, a race with older horses, Maximum Security displayed his full arsenal. As the 6/5 favorite, he broke smartly, seized the lead, traded neck leads with Spun to Run, then romped down the stretch. The winning margin was 3 ½ lengths, but as jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. eased him, it wasn’t that close.

So that’s what the other 13 horses in the Saudi Cup field face: a horse with plenty to prove and the means to prove it. It’s better to focus on what Maximum Security has done with his considerable talent instead of what he hasn’t.

“He’s gotten a little tougher looking,” Servis said. “I think anyone who saw him in Kentucky would see a difference in him now. He’s gotten older and more seasoned and I think a trained eye would see that.”