May 4, 2019 is a date that will live in horse racing history. It is the day that Maximum Security soared under Churchill’s famed twinspires, splashing mud onto the faces of his foes while he remained virtually spotless.
The roar from the crowd was deafening as it is after every Kentucky Derby, a roar that grew even louder as an inquiry was posted and stewards closely studied replays of the horses going around the final turn.
For twenty-two agonizing minutes, Maximum Security and 65-1 second place finisher Country House circled before an anxious crowd. Eyes were glued to Churchill’s big screen, awaiting the stewards’ decision.
When the disqualification was announced and Maximum Security was led back to the barns no longer a victor but a 17th place finisher, there was an uneasy feeling in the crowd and in homes around the world alike. It was an unprecedented moment. Images of the colt walking back to the barn with his head down and a single, red rose lying forgotten in the mud immortalize the moment better than anything else.
It wasn’t the last time our hearts would break for Maximum Security. The horse’s seemingly beautiful story - a rags to riches rise from a 16k claimer to a multi-million dollar earner - would once again be tarnished.
Shortly after the bay son of New Year’s Day crossed the wire first in the inaugural Saudi Cup, the FBI announced another critical piece of information — the colt’s trainer Jason Servis had been drugging the horses in his barn, including Maximum Security.
All of the colt’s accomplishments were in question — the Florida Derby (G1), Haskell Invitational (G1), Cigar Mile (G1), an Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year Old Colt, and then the Saudi Cup (G1). Had they all been the product of drugs? Was the horse capable of winning such prestigious races without it?
Horse racing fans were uncomfortable with the reality they had been presented with. Some boasted that they knew all along, that a horse like Maximum Security was not as good as he seemed. Others mourned for their beloved horse, a horse that they had become devout fans of from the moment he won the Florida Derby.
The truth is that the question of whether or not Maximum Security was capable of the level of success he had achieved without drugs doesn’t really matter. Maximum Security wasn’t aware of the drugs he was being given. He gave his all to the human beings each time he stepped onto the racetrack, just as every other racehorse does, and he was failed by the very people who are supposed to love and protect him.
That “controversial” colt shouldn’t be controversial at all. The world should never argue on whether or not he is actually a talented racehorse, but instead use his story to inspire change in the industry. What his trainer and the others who were indicted were doing is the exact thing our industry should be (and is) working tirelessly to defeat.
In the spotlight, Maximum Security and his connections were champions. Behind closed doors, some of those connections were treating him evilly. No racehorse should ever be injected with performance enhancing drugs; drugs that lie, deceive, and tarnish the very heart of horse racing.
On Maximum Security’s fourth birthday, we should celebrate the horse. We should remember that he was once a young foal at Dell Ridge Farm, being treated with the love and respect that he should have felt throughout the next few years of his life. Maximum Security is incapable of agreeing to cheat. It is not the fault of the horse and he should not be hated for such, as some seem to do.
We should celebrate Maximum Security’s beauty and heart. Though his story is infamous, we should remember it clearly and vow to never let it happen again. In the name of Maximum Security, we must eradicate those who use racehorses for greed and personal gain. They are not horse racing.
Maximum Security is now in the barn of Bob Baffert, slowly returning to a life of fair racing. No matter if he wins or loses when he finally races again, we will celebrate. We will celebrate because he returned after something he should have never experienced. And if he is indeed victorious, how wonderful of a story that would be. Horse racing is all about celebrating the Thoroughbred racehorse. It is about their natural speed and drive, their love for running and their will to please. Drugs have no place here.
Happy Birthday, Maximum Security. For you and the others like you, our industry will strive to do better.
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