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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


For those not “socially” connected with horse racing, it still shouldn’t surprise you to learn that race-watching, like handicapping, is more art than science. Achievement beyond results often can be hard to recognize, never mind nuanced.

And we would not have known that was even a thing had @Varsity Punks not given us a Twitter heads-up.

How could so many question Abel Cedillo’s handling of Maximum Security, who won the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap by a nose? Did his critics bother to put together the entire scenario behind the task at hand? To wit:

Was this not the Kentucky Derby first’s comeback following a 147-day layup? Was he not carrying high weight of a steadying 127 pounds, spotting the horse he beat narrowly five pounds?

As an aside: Kudos to Del Mar Racing Secretary and Handicapper David Jerkens for bringing Maximum Security and major contender Midcourt together at the line.

Jerkens is the son of Steven Jerkens, he the son of Harry Allen Jerkens. It appears the apple doesn’t fall far from The Chief.

Wasn’t Saturday Max’s first start in a new barn that compared to his former handler is like going from night from day; five furlong works in 1:04 compared to five-eighths in :59.

And what of Max’s lack of race experience where the turf meets the surf? Finally, were eight workouts enough to have him fit but not close to Pacific Classic peak?

If horseplayers want to pick at nits, they could have done so with a tad more credulity had they challenged Ricardo Santana’s handling of Volatile, whose opening gambits of 23.46 and 46.67 allowed his G1 Vanderbilt rivals into the race.

Santana used an offensive weapon defensively. He won the race but victory was made possible by a horse capable of running the final quarter-mile of a Grade 1 Spa dirt sprint in an extraordinary 22.93.

Only champions, or would-be champions, can run that fast on a bias-free surface that did not yield aberrantly fast times on the day.

Cedillo, meanwhile, who won the G2 San Clemente 30 minutes prior to the San Diego with a well-executed plan aboard Laura’s Light, rode a text book race on ‘Max,’ who finished first for the 10th time in 11 starts.

Maximum Security’s only racetrack loss came in the overnight Pegasus Stakes, a prep for the 2019 Haskell Invitational. It’s a record that spans seven racetracks from Riyadh to Oceanside, 8,347 air miles.

Maximum Security’s share of the $20-million Saudi Cup is being withheld by the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia pending an inquiry into the result and investigation of former trainer Jason Servis.

Consequently, his FEB 29 victory is effectively being held in abeyance.  

Cedillo’s winning ride in the San Diego was textbook. After an alert start, it was clear he would ride him as if he were on the best horse, taking the lead and some of the sting out of his major rival on the first turn then taking back, albeit a tad abruptly, after Higher Power had moved into second.

In route fractions that were identical to Volatile’s Grade 1-sprint fractions, Cedillo needed to put Max in the race and pushed on him sooner than he probably wanted.

If he hadn’t, it is unlikely that he would have been able to win the photo as there was no quit in Midcourt. In fact, they even galloped out together for a short span.

The eight published works plotted by Bob Baffert were enough to get his horse fit, but between the rustiness and wish to leave something in reserve the Grade 1 1-1/4 miles to come, there was just enough in the tank, but no more.

Had it been Pincay or Delahoussaye or Smith or Rosario doing the booting, Twitter likely would have had nothing but praise. Then that’s horse racing for you.

Speed Is Always Dangerous…If Rationed Correctly

By definition, Ricardo Santana Jr. did nothing wrong and, like Cedillo, rode Volatile as if he were on the best horse, which obviously he was. But to set half-mile route fractions in a Grade 1 sprint is a recipe for defeat.

Grade 1 sprints are seldom, if ever, won with quarter-mile splits of 23.46, 23.41 and 22.93. Top class turf sprints might be won with those splits but not dirt sprints.

In its purest forms, turf racing is a game of acceleration; dirt racing a game of deceleration. But not the way Volatile with Santana played it Saturday.

What Volatile accomplished in his Grade 1 and Saratoga debut was the near impossible. The only reason he was able to draw out at the end of six furlongs in 1:09.61 is that he didn’t find his very best, lengthened, stride until Santana drove him out in the final sixteenth.

The time for separation was approaching headstretch instead of allowing three Grade 1 rivals to chew on you in your first true class test. It wasn’t a bad ride, it’s just that, given prevailing dynamics, Cedillo executed his job a little more thoughtfully.

Too Soon Old and… Too Soon Smart?

Early Saturday morning, we saw the great Enable fire her best shot to win an unprecedented third King George VI-Queen Elizabeth I, her 11th Group 1, after making a disappointing 2020 debut.

Later in the afternoon, we saw another great six-year-old mare, Sistercharlie, lose her 2020 debut in an effort that can only be described as flat, which was helped along by a late, unflattering lead change.

Her defeat wouldn’t have been as shocking had Maximum Security given that Sistercharlie had a very accomplished rival to conquer.

Starship Jubilee, who succeeded despite having to come a brush-in with the starting gate and racing too keenly early, just like she thing in her prior at Tampa Bay Downs this winter, but that just might be her.

The “good” Sistercharlie, even at an inappropriately shorter trip, likely would have run “the best claim ever” down.

But given successive defeats after winning six consecutive Grade 1s over two seasons, it is fair to wonder whether or not she’s over the top and perhaps never to return to her best form.

But ‘Charlie’ is older now, and older horses often need to be raced into top condition.

Chad Brown told television analyst Andy Serling Sunday morning he’s confident he can get Sistercharlie where she needs to be as she attempts a repeat victory in the longer, Grade 1 Diana one month from now.

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23 Responses

  1. All I can say about Maximum Security is I found no fault with the ride. It sort of reminds me of Big Brown who after the Preakness was never the same horse. I guess we’ll find out about Maximum Security, Volatile’s race was just strange to me. Maybe he regressed off his big number. This wasn’t a visually impressive race.

    1. Aaron,

      Agree with both observations. BB said he had him at only 80% with the Pacific Classic in mind and he could move forward exponentially, or you’re right and his career has caught up with him. Kind of fascinating. And Saez said he’s the kind you have to ride throughout, stay after him. Alas we shall see.

      It was virtually impossible for Volatile to repeat his Aristedes but lack of pace actually forced him to work harder to maintained the lead. But two other things. Like in his last, he separated himself from the field at about the 3/16s, discouraging the competition right there. And I think he would do better with a bit of a target to aim at.

  2. I was not as impressed with Maximum Security’s performance, but I don’t think it was the jockey’s fault. Kid was under tremendous pressure and he got what was under him home in front. I’m just not sure we will see the same horse we did previously, and the trouble trip he encountered wasn’t the obstacle they framed it as. But time will tell. Had no issue with the ride the horse was given

  3. Doc,
    As was noted, Max’s overall race does not impress, but his will to win and keep trying does. It’s the mark of a real Thoroughbred: Heart is another way of defining class in my view. But your point is valid, Max might be over the top, but given the races and conditions to which he had to adapt this year, his courage was really remarkable.

    With Saez locked in New York with travel restrictions, I hope BB keeps Cedillo on for the Pacific Classic now that he knows the horse better now. If Max returns to win the Pacific Classic with authority, he belongs in the G-word category without question.
    Like it or not, racing needs Maximum Security, already the most famous race horse in America. Horses do not choose their connections. I was interested to note that he ran in Coolmore colors on Saturday, which certainly is fair enough now…

    1. Absolutely – and I know Saez Is coaching the kid as well so having that race under his belt is so important going forward. I see no reason to change pilots in the Pacific.

  4. Volatile runs like an angry horse. He reminds me of another great sprinter Precisionist. He also appear to be pissed off when he was running. How does Steve A keep developing these outstanding Sprinters? Mitole was sensational just last season.

  5. Tony,

    Have to watch replay again and try to see what you’re observing. Hey, maybe he resented the slow pace LOL. You know, I saw Precisionist win the BC but don’t remember any of his personality. When I get a chance I’ll check to see if YouTube has anything.

    Steve A is a Texas-bred, so he was born into a family who know all about fast horses I guess. But these two bullets back to back? Wow, indeed.

  6. Mitole 2019 Eclipse Award winner Champion Male Sprinter. 10 for 14 lifetime. Retired to Spendthrift Farm. Oh yeah, won Breeder’s Cup Sprint also (2019).

  7. TTT

    You give the racing secretary too much credit. Coincidence. Nobody is that smart. Great horses have a way of finding the wire first, despite nefarious trainers, drunken jockeys, and long-winded analysts. The best horse won. A great horse. The winner of the Kentucky Derby, and for that he is one of me heros.

    1. Appreciate this complimentary posting about MAX. I agree w/you about his greatness. His DY race was a wire job. Surprised he hasn’t retired to make babies.

    2. Most credible handicappers would argue 2 pounds equals about 1 length at this distance. He spotted the winner five pounds and won by a nose. Go figure…

  8. John; Sorry, but I believe that Santana got away with theft. I haven’t seen a “Boat Ride” like that since Roosevelt closed! In a 4 horse field, you collect a check no matter what. The other 3 riders were grossly negligent for letting Santana got away with that stuff.

  9. Carmine, The Red Man, he’s gonna win it all-Jack E. Lee. Carmine won more races at YR and mostly on the front end. But yes, there were “boat races” or “Indian file” style where nobody made a move the entire way. Roosevelt was a beautiful track. “They’re not gonna catch The General, Herve Filion, he’s gonna win it all.”

    1. Remember Henry Hecht in the New York Post before he started writing baseball, his first love, for SI? I liked to use nicknames; one wasn’t so charity as the great George Sholty was “The Stump,”; Filion was “The Great H.E.R.” Trying to remember, too, Buddy Gilmour was “The Whip.” Hecht also might have gotten some nickname help from Ray Williams, who called harness chart for SportsEye.

  10. I believe Ben Webster was “Benny The Whip.” Same time frame, ‘tho. “Stormin’ Norman” (Dauplaise). Some excellent drivers.

    1. Think you’re right, “Benny the Whip” Good catch (driver)!

      Sorry for parenthesis–couldn’t resist.

  11. John & C: Jack E. Lee was the announcer’s announcer! He was all New York , all the time. All these years later, my all-time favorite PA announcement was made by Jack after the first race each day. He would bellow that “The Windows for the sale of Third Race BIG TRIPLE tickets ARRRRE OPEN!” And, then he’d repeat “Third Race Big Triple windows ARRRRE OPEN!” He was a showman of a PA announcer.
    His race calls were pretty good too. He made Big Towner and Tarport Hap into Equine Legends.

    1. I liked it when a Big Triple ($3.00) paid an unusually high amount and Jack Lee would emphasize THOUSAND dollars. He was a good announcer and he called Carmine, The Red Man because of his uniform and helmet. He was a showman.

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