HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Maximum Security was in a claiming race just over three months ago, which meant his connections were willing to let him go to another barn at that point for a mere $16,000.
There were no takers.
Oh, how they might have missed out. Maximum Security has risen from racing’s minor leagues to a berth in the Kentucky Derby.
Maximum Security is no claimer anymore, now unbeaten in four career starts and the winner of the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby. He bolted from the gate and never got caught Saturday, going wire-to-wire for a 3 1/2-length victory at Gulfstream Park and a spot in the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Maximum Security trainer Jason Servis said. “He’s been beating up on lesser horses. I think the last race was a six-horse field, maybe. So the jury was still out. If he’d have run sixth, would I have been surprised? No.”
Instead, the surprises were how easily Maximum Security got to the lead – and how easily he stayed there. Servis and jockey Luis Saez had gone over a whole slew of game plans. Turns out, none of them were necessary. The horse just took over.
“It was easy,” Saez said.
Maximum Security hit the wire ahead of 70-1 long-shot Bodexpress – a maiden who likely has enough points now to get to the Kentucky Derby as well. The Florida Derby doles out 100 points to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth, and there’s almost no scenario where 40 points wouldn’t be enough to earn a berth.
“It was a huge effort,” Bodexpress jockey Nik Juarez said. “I really liked him going into the race and he impressed me the way he ran last time. He’s a young horse that can take dirt and when he finishes, he gives it all he has.”
Code of Honor, the Fountain of Youth winner who was already assured of a trip to Churchill Downs to start the Triple Crown season, was third.
“It just didn’t work out,” Code of Honor trainer Shug McCaughey said. “I’m not overly disappointed with the way he ran. We’ll have to see how he comes out of it and go from there.”
Maximum Security returned $11.60, $7.40 and $5.40. Bodexpress paid $47.40 and $16.60 and Code of Honor paid $4.20 to show. Favored Hidden Scroll, who needed likely a top-two finish to get into the Kentucky Derby, managed to only finish sixth.
“We probably bit off a little more than we could chew at this point,” Hidden Scroll trainer Bill Mott said. “We’ll back off and kind of start over with him.”
That’s sort of what Servis did with Maximum Security.
It seems so long ago that the homebred for owners Gary and Mary West had some issues, ones that Servis didn’t detail other than to say that they worried him. But Servis was also relieved when no one claimed him in that Dec. 21 race, the first of Maximum Security’s four wins so far, all of them coming at Gulfstream.
And now they’re hitting the road for the first time.
Jason Servis’ brother, John Servis, trained Smarty Jones to the Kentucky Derby win in 2004. Jason Servis got a horse from his own barn to the Run for the Roses for the first time last year, and is heading back with a very intriguing candidate.
“I always felt there was a plan that God had, that we were going to be the first two brothers to win the race,” Jason Servis said. “Might not be this year, but I’m trying.”
Plus Que Parfait went to the lead in the stretch and won the $2.5 million UAE Derby on Saturday in Dubai.
The win was worth 100 Kentucky Derby standings points for Plus Que Parfait. That would be more than enough to get him into the May 4 race at Churchill Downs if his connections choose to ship in for the start of the Triple Crown season.
The winning jockey was Jose Ortiz, who was riding at Gulfstream earlier in the week and passed up opportunities for the Florida Derby.