The big race at Del Mar this weekend is the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap over an extended mile, and Maximum Security should defy top-weight.
Now in the care of Bob Baffert, the four-year-old New Year’s Day colt was first past the post in the Kentucky Derby last season. However, Maximum Security got disqualified in controversial fashion and placed way down the field.
Prior to that, he had won all three career starts. Although turned over at odds of 1.05 on his first outing since Churchill Downs, Maximum Security restored his reputation with victory in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.
The way he gradually asserted in the final 100 yards of that three-year-olds contest was impressive. Maximum Security has since won two graded handicaps, cashing in on an ease in grade to land the Bold Ruler at Belmont Park when down in trip.
He followed-up on that with another commanding display in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct where he ran out a 3 1/2 lengths winner. Maximum Security then saw the Coolmore set buy shares in him and he went to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Cup was a brand new race for the global program this year. Although lacked Group or graded status, the event over nine furlongs was that quality in all but name.
Maximum Security was all out on the dirt, but held Midnight Bisou by three-quarters of a length. The form looks solid as Mucho Gusto who was runner-up in the Haskell Invitational last year, was beaten three lengths in fourth.
This is Maximum Security’s triumphant return to racing in America after that success. He has a good record fresh, so the break of 148 days should be no problem. New trainer Baffert has won the San Diego Handicap before and can again.
Trainer Juan Leyva and owners Hronis Racing run two against Maximum Security. A repeat of either his Breeders’ Cup Classic show or placing in the Hollywood Gold Cup last time out would see Higher Power go close.
Like Maximum Security, this five-year-old has changed trainers. Now in the care of Leyva, Higher Power missed last year’s San Diego Handicap but returned to Del Mar and landed the Grade 1 Pacific Stakes over 10 furlongs.
He absolutely bolted up by over five lengths. If stamina comes into play, then Higher Power will not be found wanting.
As he has twice won over a mile before, the San Diego Handicap distance holds no fears for him. Higher Power then showed twice at California’s other major racetrack, Santa Anita.
The form of the Breeders’ Cup Classic looks good as the runner-up, McKinzie has won since. While Higher Power shaped as if something was amiss when trailing in last for the Pegasus Gold Cup, he has since had a break to freshen up.
He ran well in defeat on his return at Santa Anita. As Higher Power was trying to give Improbable 2lb in the Hollywood Gold Cup, a three-length loss is no disgrace.
Now he gets weight from the market leader, race terms are at his advantage. Higher Power receives 5lb from Maximum Security, so he should be competitive with the favorite here.
Santa Anita Handicap winner Combatant is the owner-trainer companion. The five-year-old drops down in trip and doesn’t have a great record over this distance, so looks opposable.
Another with place prospects or at least claims of showing is Midcourt. Trained by John Shireffs, this lightly-raced five-year-old has more improvement in him than most of Maximum Security’s four other rivals.
Midcourt has won two of his five starts, including a Grade 3 at this track on debut. He won over nine furlongs by almost six lengths, and that was impressive start to life on the track.
Although third next time out, Midcourt was winning again in Grade 2 company on his first start this year. He won by 3 1/2 lengths, again over nine furlongs.
While Combatant reversed form when they clashed again in the Santa Anita Handicap, that distance clearly suits him better. Back an extended mile, the San Diego Handicap favors Midcourt.
He is also 1lb better off at the weights from their last encounter, so the different trip and terms are on his side. That makes Midcourt more appealing than Combatant, so he makes the shortlist.
As he gets the same amount of weight (5lb) from Maximum Security as Higher Power, but doesn’t quite have the form to match, only place or show bets are advised.