As hard as it is to fathom, given his dominance over major races, there are races Bob Baffert can’t solve. So in true Baffert form, for one of those races — the San Diego Handicap — Baffert is calling in maximum reinforcements.
He’s bringing in Maximum Security, who makes his long-anticipated return to the track in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. The 1 1/16-mile race was postponed from last Saturday when Del Mar shut down for the weekend due to a coronavirus outbreak among its jockey colony.
The San Diego Handicap is a prep for next month’s Grade 1 Pacific Classic, Del Mar’s flagship race. But given the contestants, this is a Grade 1 field for all intents and purposes. And it is, considering three horses own Grade 1 wins.
Aside from Maximum Security, you’ve got defending Pacific Classic champion Higher Power, Santa Anita Handicap winner Combatant and regular West Coast stakes contender Midcourt, who is 2-for-2 at Del Mar.
Where is the 30-for-30 Crew When You Need Them?
They all come with storylines, but none more compelling than Maximum Security. What he’s gone through in just the last 14 months would make an excellent ESPN 30-for-30. There’s the Kentucky Derby DQ, surviving an inquiry at the Haskell and winning the $20 million Saudi Cup. Then, there’s having his trainer – Jason Servis – indicted for doping horses. On top of all that, Abel Cedillo takes the reins from Luis Saez, who is in quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Servis’ indictment prompted owners Gary and Mary West to move Maximum Security to Baffert’s barn in March. Baffert put Maximum Security through typically rigorous morning workouts, which the Hall of Fame trainer employs as a matter of course. Maximum Security responded with a 59.6-second five-furlong workout July 11 that was the fourth fastest of 88 horses working that distance. He backed that up with a six-furlong 1:11.6 bullet workout last Saturday, the original race date.
San Diego Handicap
Morning Line, Weight (Jockey)
- Higher Power, 7/2, 122 (Flavien Prat)
- Ax Man, 8/1, 118, (Mike Smith)
- Sharp Samurai, 12/1, 119 (Jorge Velez)
- Combatant, 6/1, 121, (Drayden Van Dyke)
- Maximum Security, Even, 127, (Abel Cedillo)
- Midcourt, 4/1, 122, (Victor Espinoza)
Maximum Security carries 127 pounds, the highest assigned weight allowance for the San Diego in 55 years. That’s when Native Dancer carried 131.
“I have a really good feeling about this horse and I really want him to run well. What he’s gone through is not his fault,” Baffert told Del Mar media relations department.
This is a Race That Baffles Baffert
Of course, Baffert would prefer a change of course in this race, considering he’s won the San Diego Handicap once. That was Fed Biz in 2014. The seconds with Paynter (2013) and Dr Dorr (2016) don’t cleanse Baffert’s competitive palate from some of his clunkers.
In 1998, Baffert brought Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm into Del Mar, turned him loose at odds of 3/10, then watched him finish fifth with a career-worst Equibase Speed Figure (80).
Then, there was the late Arrogate in 2017. The No. 1 ranked Thoroughbred in the world after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, Arrogate went off at 1/20. He finished fourth, 15 lengths behind Accelerate.
Sadler Shooting for a San Diego Handicap Four-Peat
That brings us to John Sadler, who trained Accelerate and 2018 and 2019 San Diego Handicap winner Catalina Cruiser. Sadler brings in Higher Power, last seen finishing a game second to Improbable in June’s Hollywood Gold Cup. Higher Power’s highest moment came at Del Mar, when he romped home by 5 ¼ lengths in last year’s Pacific Classic. He’ll carry five fewer pounds (122) than Maximum Security.
One key betting factor comes with Higher Power. He’s hit the board in six of his last seven starts. Four of those were Grade 1s.
“Maximum Security is one of the best horses in the world,” Sadler told Del Mar. “But you’ve got to run when you’re ready and we’re ready right now.”
The pick: Higher Power. With the jockey change, trainer change and Del Mar’s quirky running surface, if you’re going to get Maximum Security, get him now. Being a horse for Del Mar’s course, Higher Power becomes only the second horse to finish ahead of Maximum Security in a race.