By Joe Bianca
The last time Maximum Security (New Year's Day) traveled 10 furlongs, he crossed the wire first before the disqualification heard around the world in the GI Kentucky Derby. A ton has happened with the colt in the year-and-change since then: an Eclipse championship, a buy-in from Coolmore, a trip across the world to win the G1 Saudi Cup, doping allegations, a barn switch. Through it all, the horse who controversy seems to follow like a shadow will return to 1 1/4 miles and Grade I company with questions to answer in Saturday's GI TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Following his Derby demotion with a runner-up effort at 1-20 in last summer's TVG.com Pegasus S. at Monmouth, the bay found redemption by annexing the GI TVG.com Haskell Invitational S. on the Jersey Shore. After being forced to miss several months with a minor injury, he scored victories in the GIII Bold Ruler H. and GI Cigar Mile H. to wrap up his divisional title.
Just nine days after he notched a hard-fought triumph in the inaugural Saudi Cup in his 4-year-old debut, Maximum Security's trainer Jason Servis was indicted by federal prosecutors for alleged doping of horses including Maximum Security himself, prompting a move to the Bob Baffert barn. Making his much-anticipated return in the July 25 GII San Diego H., he ground out a nose victory at 2-5, the 10th time in 11 career races he crossed the wire first, earning a 101 Beyer, 10 points shy of his top effort.
C R K Stable's Midcourt (Midnight Lute), who nearly dueled Maximum Security into defeat, returns to take another crack at the champion. Lightly raced at five years old, the gelding reeled off four straight victories last year culminating in a 5 3/4-length conquest of the GIII Native Diver S. at this oval in November and picked up another open-length graded tally in the GII San Pasqual S. two starts later Feb. 1 at Santa Anita. A narrow third in the GI Santa Anita H., his initial 10-furlong try, Mar. 7, he bounced back from a badly-beaten fifth in the GI Gold Cup S. June 6 in Arcadia to stretch Maximum Security all the way to the wire in the San Diego.
Hronis Racing's Higher Power (Medaglia d'Oro), a surprise runaway winner of last year's Pacific Classic, tries to recapture that top form. Going turf to dirt for a 5 1/2-length score in the Del Mar meet centerpiece, the bay failed to build on that run when a distant third in both the GI Awesome Again S. and GI Longines Breeders' Cup Classic before finishing last as the favorite in the GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational S. Bouncing back a bit to be runner-up in the Gold Cup, he proved no match for the top pair in the San Diego, finishing 6 1/4 lengths back in third.
Sharp Samurai (First Samurai), a multiple graded stakes winner on turf, will make his first dirt start since running sixth in a Santa Anita optional claimer in March of 2017. He was last seen finishing a close runner-up in the GII Eddie Read S. on the local lawn July 26.