Maximum Security goes from running for minimum to Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Maximum Security is at the other end of the fiscal spectrum of horse racing.

Horse owners frequently pay a royal ransom to acquire a horse with potential to win the Kentucky Derby. A million dollars or more is not unheard of.

Anyone with $16,000 could have acquire Maximum Security after his debut late in December. Had someone struck boldly, they would now have the Florida Derby winner and an 8-1 shot to capture the Kentucky Derby. The colt will be the only undefeated horse in Saturday’s Derby.

Potentially losing the horse for that price was a calculated gamble by trainer Jason Servis.

Servis entered Maximum Security in a claiming race, where every horse carries a price tag. In this instance, the unraced Maximum Security was available for $16,000.

The colt had been slow to develop. He hadn’t shown much in his workouts over the summer at Monmouth Park.

Maximum Security picked up the pace in late fall when he shifted from New Jersey to Florida. That was the signal to Servis to start looking for a race. And up popped the spot for maiden claimers.

“I didn’t think I’d lose him,” Servis said. “It was the end of the year and people would assume we were trying to clear out a horse. If he had gotten claimed that day, I would have been upset.”

Fortunately for Servis and owners Mary and Gary West, there were no takers.

Maximum Security battled for the early lead before shaking free, romping to a 9 3/4-length victory.

“I thought he’d win,” Servis said, “but I wasn’t expecting a gallop like that.”

That was the last time Maximum Security carried a claiming tag. He easily won his next two races, setting the stage for the Florida Derby.

As usual, Maximum Security went right to front, set a moderate pace and drew clear to a 3 +-length win.

The former claimer had blossomed into a Grade 1 stakes winner with more than enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

“He’s fresh,” Servis said. “He’s not a horse that’s been behind and finished eighth or sixth or third. I’ve been careful with the spacing of his races. Walking around here, we have to put a chain on him to keep him on the ground.”

This will be the second straight Derby starter for Servis. Firenze Fire finished 11th last year.

With a victory, Servis would carry on a family tradition. His brother John won the race with Smarty Jones in 2004.

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.