As promised, Maximum Security is back to the fray for his first Pacific Classic. But after his rocky victory in last month’s San Diego Handicap, is the standout 4-year-old truly back?

Higher Power 2020 Pacific Classic
Higher Power’s career-defining race came in last year’s Pacific Classic. He enters his defense of the Grade 1 race 0-for-his-last-5. (Image:

Two of Maximum Security’s chief West Coast rivals, Midcourt and Higher Power, will answer part of that equation. But most of the eyes – and betting attention – will be riveted on the even-money favorite for the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic, Del Mar’s signature race.

The headliner on an 11-race, five-stakes card, the Grade 1 Pacific Classic doubles as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” ticket to that event’s signature race – the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A glimpse of the winner’s roll over just the last decade reveals marquee names aplenty: Accelerate, the filly Beholder, California Chrome, Shared Belief, Game on Dude, and Acclamation.

Accelerate won by a record 12 ½ lengths in 2018. Two years earlier, California Chrome became the first Kentucky Derby winner to capture the event. The year before Chrome’s victory, Beholder destroyed nine other male horses – including reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Bayern — by 8 ¼ lengths. That made Beholder the only filly or mare to win the Pacific Classic.

But the Pacific Classic doesn’t always wash champions into its winner’s circle. Witness 1996, when 39/1 shot Dare And Go snapped Cigar’s 16-race unbeaten streak. That left Cigar tied with the great Citation for consecutive victories.

Sadler’s Saddled the Last Two Pacific Classic Champions

This is the company Maximum Security and his five counterparts seek to join – or keep, in the case of defending champion Higher Power (3/1). He gave trainer John Sadler his second consecutive Pacific Classic title last year, piggy-backing on Accelerate’s 2018 victory. Higher Power, meanwhile, seeks to join Tinners Way (1994-95), Skimming (2000-01), and Richard’s Kid (2009-10) as Pacific Classic repeaters.

It won’t be easy, and not just because Higher Power lost his last five races since that Pacific Classic victory. He finished a poor third in last month’s 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap, beaten soundly by 6 ¼ lengths by Maximum Security and Midcourt. Sadler said Higher Power needs the longer distance to even the score.

That’s borne out by his best finishes: the victory here, the second in the Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita, and a third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. All three of those came at 1 ¼ miles.

Pacific Classic

Morning Line (Jockey)

  1. Midcourt, 7/2 (Victor Espinoza)
  2. Higher Power, 3/1 (Flavien Prat)
  3. Mirinaque, 10/1 (Tiago Josue Pereira)
  4. Dark Vader, 12/1 (Umberto Rispoli)
  5. Maximum Security, Even (Abel Cedillo)
  6. Sharp Samurai, 8/1 (Juan Hernandez)

It won’t be easy, because of who occupies post No. 5 — Maximum Security. Speaking of distance, he illustrated that 10 furlongs won’t be a problem for him either. What was a problem in that San Diego Handicap – which doubled as his first race back in five months and his first race in Bob Baffert’s barn – was Maximum Security’s rough trip. He broke out strong, got boxed in, hit a virtual wall, climbed back outside, then rallied to beat Midcourt by a nose at the wire.

Baffert said it wasn’t an ideal trip, but he maintained it was an impressive one. It illustrated why Maximum Security is an elite horse and an enigma all rolled into one. From his DQ in the 2019 Kentucky Derby to surviving a steward’s inquiry at last year’s Haskell Invitational, to his Saudi Cup victory in February, nothing is ever a given here.

Only One Horse Beat Maximum Security Across the Line

Nothing, but the indisputable fact Maximum Security faced 75 horses in his 11 career races. He’s beaten 74 of them across the finish line.

“It’s a fascinating race. Is Maximum Security going to step out or stay the same? Is he vulnerable? It should be kind of interesting which Maximum Security we’re going to get,” Sadler told Bloodhorse.

If Maximum Security steps out, that question answers itself, since not even his two primary rivals likely have his finishing gear. That he starts outside of rail-occupant Midcourt, gives Maximum Security another edge. The 7/2 third favorite, Midcourt is the other speed horse in the field and jockey Victor Espinoza clearly understands letting Maximum Security break free and clear is a disastrous trip waiting to happen.

Which Midcourt Are We Going to See?

“He has his own mind,” Espinoza told the Daily Racing Form. “He has to do whatever he wants to do. I just let him do his thing. Sometimes, he breaks good, sometimes he does not.”

Sadler’s question, however, points to the essence of this Pacific Classic. Which Maximum Security will we get?

The pick: Maximum Security. His second trip out for Baffert – who said he’s responding to his increased training workload – should be a run on the beach.