DEL MAR, CA – A thrilling stretch battle between two rivals who refused to give an inch came down to the wire, where Maximum Security just nipped Midcourt to win Saturday’s $150,000 San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar.
Sent from post 5 under Abel Cedillo as the 2/5 heavy favorite, Maximum Security was hustled to the lead and cleared his inside foes to save ground heading into the clubhouse turn. Midcourt raced just outside of him early, but then soon surged to take command at the top of the backstretch.
Higher Power moved forward midway down the straight to run second while Midcourt posted opening fractions of :23.74, :46.87, and 1:11.40. Not long after Higher Power passed them, Cedillo tipped out Maximum Security out into the clear, running three-wide into the far turn.
Racing along the outside of Higher Power, Maximum Security found his way to the front and gave Midcourt his first challenge of the race. Midcourt dug deep and engaged the favorite in a tough duel that lasted the length of the stretch.
Inching ahead ever so slightly at the 1/16 pole, Maximum Security held on to prevail by a nose in a final time of 1:44.54 for the 1 1/16-mile fast dirt route.
“He broke really well and we were in front, then that horse outside me (Midcourt) rushed up and I didn’t want to have to deal with him, so I just let him go,” Cedillo said. “Then, on the backstretch, that other horse (Higher Power) came up inside me, but I felt OK. My horse was fine. When we turned for home, I had to get to work. I knew I was going to do that. He’s the kind of horse you have to ride all the way. You have to keep working on him. We got it done. I thought I’d won the photo, but you can never be sure about those thing, but it came out right.”
Higher Power retreated in the stretch but still finished third ahead of Ax Man, the winner’s Bob Baffert-trained stablemate. Combatant hopped in the air at the start and never engaged with the field before completing the order of finish.
Sharp Samurai scratched, with his connections opting to enter him in Sunday’s Eddie Read Stakes (G2), a 1 1/8-mile turf route.
Maximum Security’s win was his first since joining trainer Bob Baffert’s stable earlier this year and improved his overall record to 11-9-1-0. The 4-year-old New Year’s Day colt has now earned $11,891,900 for co-owners Gary and Mary West (who also bred him) and the Coolmore triumvirate of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith.
“That was crazy,” Baffert said. “I knew I didn’t have him really drummed up for this race; we were going to use this to get ready for the next one, but we’re learning about the horse. He won today when he had every reason to get beat. He showed what a great horse he is today. He’s such a fighter. I’m glad we got this over with and now he’s in good shape.”
Maximum Security returned $2.80 to win, $2.20 to place, and $2.10 to show. Midcourt brought back $3.60 to place and $2.10 to show, while Higher Power paid $2.10 to show.