Maximum Security: A $16k Claimer Turned $11.8 Million Earner


Maximum Security after winning the $20 million Saudi Cup. Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Martin Dokoupil

There’s an old saying in horse racing that goes: “Breed the best to the best and hope for the best”. Perhaps that’s what Gary and Mary West were thinking when they bred Lil Indy to New Year’s Day in 2015, but it doesn’t quite seem that way on paper.


Lil Indy spent her entire two-year racing career in the claiming ranks of race tracks like Penn National. Her sire, Anasheed, had managed to finish second in the 2002 Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3), but spent much of his career struggling to win at the Allowance level. Her dam, Cresta Lil, had faced similar circumstances during her career. In fact, Cresta Lil sold for just $3,500 when she was pregnant with Lil Indy.


The Wests bought Lil Indy for $80,000 in 2014 after her half-brother Flat Out had made a name for himself as a multiple-Grade 1 winner. She was in foal to Pioneerof The Nile at the time. But, Lil Indy’s first three foals didn’t manage to do much on the racetrack and for a moment there it looked as if she wasn’t going to do much as a producer. Nevertheless, the Wests paired their new mare with New Year’s Day and hoped for the best for her fourth foal.


New Year’s Day had shown promise as a racehorse, but was forced to retire after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) due to an injury. Though his dam was the successful racehorse and producer Justwhistledixie (Dixie Union) and his sire was Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster winner Street Cry, New Year’s Day was overlooked as a sire. When the Wests bred Lil Indy to New Year’s Day, his stud fee was just a few thousand dollars.

Maximum Security in his stall before the Saudi Cup. Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Neville Hopwood

The Lil Indy and New Year’s Day foal was born on May 14, 2016 at Dell Ridge Farm in Kentucky. His foaling date was considered pretty late and it was likely that he would take longer than his peers to develop. He was a sweet and happy individual, but he wasn’t dominant and loved to sleep. He gave no clear indication that he would become a good racehorse.


The Wests bred Lil Indy back to New Year’s Day and sold her for just $11,000. Her 2016 colt was named Maximum Security.


When Maximum Security joined trainer Jason Servis at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, he actually began to show some of his ability. Still, no one had high expectations of him. He made his debut in December of 2018 in a $16,000 maiden claimer. Because his pedigree showed no real promise, no one claimed him and he remained in the barn of Jason Servis.


No one really knew how lucky they were that he wasn’t claimed. The colt followed up his maiden victory with two consecutive victories in Optional Claimers at Gulfstream Park. His 20 ¼ length victory in his third race prompted his connections to enter him in the Florida Derby (G1), a prep race for the Kentucky Derby.


Though Maximum Security had shown some promise in his recent start, no one took a $16k claimer too seriously. He was the fourth choice on the board. Maximum Security truly proved himself that day, winning by 3 ½ lengths in a gate to wire performance.


[Video: Watch Maximum Security (#1) win the Florida Derby]


When it was announced the Omaha Beach was scratched from the Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security was elevated to the second-choice in the race. To the screams and cheers of a packed Churchill Downs, Maximum Security broke well from gate seven and took the lead. He set the pace on the rail, pounding over the sloppy track with ease. Long Range Toddy was breathing down his neck with War of Will and Bodexpress positioned close behind.


But something odd happened as the horses went around the far turn: Maximum Security drifted off the rail, sweeping War of Will, Long Range Toddy, Bodexpress, and Country House out wide. War of Will slammed into Long Range Toddy to avoid falling, causing Toddy to squeeze Bodexpress backwards. Meanwhile, Country House swept past them on the outside and Code of Honor charged up the now empty rail.


Still, Country House, War of Will, Maximum Security, and Code of Honor lined up together at the top of the stretch and each horse gave it their all. Maximum Security had more than any other horse left within him, holding on to win. But the celebrations didn’t last for long - an inquiry was called on Maximum Security drifting around the turn.


After an agonizingly long review of the race, the stewards determined that Maximum Security had indeed impeded multiple horses in the race and would be disqualified. He would be moved down to 17th place, just behind Long Range Toddy (who placed the lowest of all the horses he interfered with). In a matter of minutes, Maximum Security had gone from a Kentucky Derby winner to a 17th place finisher. Country House, the 65-1 longshot runner-up, had been elevated to the winner.


[Video: Watch the 2019 Kentucky Derby in which Maximum Security (#7) was disqualified]


The horse racing community exploded. Half the world was infuriated by the disqualification, especially Maximum Security’s owners. The other half believed that the stewards made the right call because Maximum Security could have caused serious injury to the horses he impeded.


Maximum Security’s next race would be highly anticipated; the world wanted him to prove that he was indeed better than all of the other horses in the Kentucky Derby. His connections decided not to run him in the Preakness Stakes or Belmont Stakes, instead opting to run him in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park.


It seemed that the entire world tuned in to see if Maximum Security would win his next race. The result was almost shocking: Maximum Security lost a duel to the aptly named King For A Day.


Many doubts were cast upon Maximum Security after that loss. Was he really the horse that the world thought he was after the Florida Derby or was he truly a $16,000 claimer that managed to win a few good races? That all changed the day Maximum Security won the Haskell Invitational (G1), getting revenge on King For A Day and defeating eventual Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Mucho Gusto and eventual Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Spun to Run.


Maximum Security had proved himself as one of the best horses in his crop.


He was expected to run in the Travers Stakes (G1), but missed the race because trainer Jason Servis was not happy with the way he was training. He was then entered into the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and was again scratched, this time because the horse was suffering from colic.

Maximum Security. Copyright to Jockey Club of Royal Saudi Arabia/Doug De Felice

His fans were beginning to get anxious to see him run again, so there was much celebration when it was announced that Maximum Security would be running in the Bold Ruler Handicap (G3) on October 26th. The horse returned victoriously, taking the race by two lengths.


The Bold Ruler served as the perfect stepping stone for the colt’s final race of 2019: the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1). Again, Maximum Security put away his foes with ease to lead from gate to wire. It was the perfect ending to a three-year old season plagued with a disqualification and illness.


The beloved colt was named Champion Three-Year Old of 2019, beating out Code of Honor and Omaha Beach with 217 of the 241 votes.


Finally, it was time for what was likely the biggest test of Maximum Security’s career - the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup. The best horses in the world - both male and female - would all be vying for their piece of the richest horse race in the world.


Maximum Security and Luis Saez broke well from post seven and settled just off of pacesetter Mucho Gusto and Irad Ortiz. When the horses hit the top of the stretch, it seemed like Mucho Gusto just might win the race. But the pacesetter began to tire and drifted around the track, causing Maximum Security and Luis Saez to struggle to find a way around him. With just 200 meters left in the race, Luis Saez aimed Maximum Security to the inside of Mucho Gusto and asked the colt if he had anything left.


Maximum Security responded beautifully, kicking it into a new gear and running down Mucho Gusto. It had taken so much grit and heart to get around Mucho Gusto and the race was still not over; Midnight Bisou and Mike Smith were charging up the rail with huge strides. But it would be Maximum Security who crossed the wire first, beating Midnight Bisou by ¾ of a length.


[Video: Watch Maximum Security (#7) win the Saudi Cup]


It was an almost shocking result. Just four years prior, no one had any inkling that Maximum Security would be such an outstanding racehorse. He was a $16,000 claimer from a sire and dam thought to be worth even less than that. Now he was an earner of more than $11.8 million.


His story is one of the many that makes the sport of horse racing so unique and so wonderful to follow. The best part about it is that it’s not over yet. Maximum Security has more races ahead of him, more money to earn, and more hearts to win over. When it is all over and he is a stallion at Ashford Stud in Kentucky, fans will flock to him to remember all the ways he made them feel: all the ups, downs, heartbreak, and awe-inspiring moments.


Maximum Security is one of those few racehorses whose name conjures up strong feelings in the sport. For that, he must always be respected and cherished.

Maximum Security winning the Saudi Cup. Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Doug DeFelice

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Sources: Tales From The Crib - Maximum Security

Equibase