By Bill Finley
When Maximum Security (New Year's Day) had to fight his way to a narrow victory in the GII San Diego H., it was fair to question whether or not this was the same horse that had been so outstanding throughout his career for trainer Jason Servis. Yes, he won that day, but the dominance and brilliance he had shown on so many occasions for a trainer who was subsequently indicted for allegedly doping his horses was not there.
Then again, it seemed unwise to write him off after one race. His trip in the San Diego was not ideal as he broke on top, led and then was taken back off the pace to avoid a speed duel before coming on again in the stretch to narrowly prevail. It was also his first race in five months and trainer Bob Baffert said after the fact that he only had the horse 80% cranked up.
That's what made Saturday's GI TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar such an important race for Maximum Security, maybe even the most important race of his career. The race was all but certain to answer all the questions that had surrounded the horse over the last three weeks. A defeat or even a hard-pressed victory would be seen as proof positive that he wasn't the same. An impressive win would be seen as affirmation that he's just as good now for Baffert as he was for Servis. This time, there would be no gray area.
Maximum Security answered every question and quelled all the doubts. He went to the front, relaxed for jockey Abel Cedillo and drew off to win by three lengths in what was a markedly improved performance over the San Diego. It wasn't exactly the toughest field he has ever faced, but that didn't matter. He went out there and left no doubt that no matter who trains him this is a very good horse. The Maximum Security who won the $20-million Saudi Cup, the GI Cigar Mile H., the GI TVG.com Haskell Invitational S., the GI Xpressbet Florida Derby and crossed the wire first in the GI Kentucky Derby was back.
“I felt pretty good about him,” Baffert said Sunday. “It was a challenge but I knew down deep that he is a race horse, that he is a good horse. I was never worried that he wasn't going to run because he needed certain medications. When I got him I knew he was a runner.”
Baffert said he saw noticeable improvement in Maximum Security from his prep for the Pacific Classic and the Pacific Classic itself.
“The San Diego woke him up and he was training great,” he said. “We figured him out. I knew going in that he was going to run a big race and that he was the best horse. When I got him he was a very sound, healthy horse and he still is. Unfortunately, he's been through a lot.”
Baffert's job from here is to continue to get the best out of Maximum Security through what will be his final year of racing. The major goal, of course, will be the GI Breeders' Cup Classic and Baffert said he may have one more start between then and now. He's predicting that Maximum Security will only get better.
“I can see that he is going to get stronger and stronger and better and better and by the Breeders' Cup he should be doing great,” the trainer said.
Especially when considering the abilities of potential rivals like Tiz the Law (Constitution), Tom's d'Etat (Smart Strike) and Improbable (City Zip), Maximum Security will have to bring his A game in order to win. That shouldn't be a problem. The A game is back.
Gmax, It's Not Just the Turf
Equibase announced last week that the Gmax system will no longer be used on turf races at Del Mar during the summer meet. Instead, they will be hand timed. While admitting there was a problem timing the turf races, they maintained that everything is going just fine when it comes to dirt races.
“The times produced by the Equibase GPS System for dirt races have proven to be highly accurate and will continue to be provided,” read a statement from Equibase.
On one weekend alone at Del Mar, the Gmax system failed badly when it comes to recording dirt times. On the weekend of Aug. 1 and 2, there were six dirt races in which changes had to be made after the original time was posted on the infield board when the horses crossed the wire. The list includes the GI Bing Crosby S. Based on those races alone, how can Equibase claim that the system is “highly accurate?”
Perhaps the problems are worse on the turf, but they have also been cropping up in dirt races and it's hard to believe that the problems have been limited to Aug. 1 and 2.
For the most part, Equibase has been reluctant to admit that there are any serious problems when it comes to the Gmax system, which relies on GPS technology. But there's more than enough evidence out there to conclude that Gmax has plenty of bugs and, in its current state, is an inferior way of timing races when compared to the teletimer system. Equibase should not be satisfied with a system that gets it right most of time.
Equibase argues that Gmax is more than a timing system, that it can provide ample benefits for the industry, everything from timing workouts to creating slick looking graphics packages. But to the people whose bets provide the revenue structure that drives the sport, all that really matters is accurate times. Surely, Equibase and its parent company the Jockey Club, must understand that.
The solution to this problem seems obvious. Equibase doesn't have to throw its own product under the bus, but it should acknowledge that there are problems with Gmax. Do that and then go back to the teletimer system at the Gmax tracks with a promise that the GPS technology won't be put back in until its flaws can be fixed. At the same time, continue to use Gmax for all else that it does. Just not to time races.
In New Jersey, No Transparency
Not everyone agreed with NYRA's decision to let trainer Wayne Potts race at Saratoga on Sunday, but everyone should applaud them for how they handled the situation. Transparency matters, and they get that.
Potts was the subject of a recent story in the Paulick Report, which reported that he had been told to leave Laurel because of allegations that he was acting as a front for trainer Marcus Vitali.
NYRA got ahead of the story and released a statement that explained why Potts was allowed to race there. It was explained that since no regulatory body had taken action against Potts and since he was licensed in New York, NYRA did not feel there were any grounds for not allowing him to run.
Compare that to how New Jersey handled the same situation. On the same day that Potts competed at Saratoga and won with his lone starter on the card, he had two horses in on the program at Monmouth. One was scratched and one was not. Why was that the case and was Monmouth taking any action against Potts?
That question was directed by the TDN to steward Steve Pagano, who politely explained that the Monmouth stewards are not allowed to talk to the press. Pagano supplied a number for the New Jersey Racing Commission. Calls were made to that number but no one there even answered the phone.
Potts started one horse per day on both Saturday and Sunday at Monmouth, so he obviously hasn't been banned there, but the public has every right to know just what his status is and why one of his horses was scratched on Friday. Muzzling the stewards is ridiculous.
This is the same racing commission that can't get it right when it comes to paying out purses at Monmouth. The payments have been on hold for a month and a half while waiting for Truesdail Laboratories to report back to the commission on the drug tests that have been administered.
The New Jersey Racing Commission needs to do a better job.