By Brian Bohl
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Gary and Mary West’s Maximum Security capped his sophomore campaign the way he started it: with a decisive score, wiring an 11-horse field by 3 ½ lengths to win the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The centerpiece of the 10-race card that featured six stakes, the 31st running of the Cigar Mile saw Maximum Security cross the wire first for the seventh time in eight starts during a remarkable year. The Jason Servis trainee, who finished first in the Kentucky Derby before being disqualified to 17th for interference, registered his third Grade 1 victory, joining the Haskell Invitational in July at Monmouth Park and the Florida Derby in March at Gulfstream Park.
Breaking from post 5, 6-5 favorite Maximum Security surged to the front with 2-1 second-choice – and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile-winner – Spun to Run in close pursuit, with the opening quarter-mile in 22.80 seconds and the half in 46.17 on the fast main track.
Under regular rider Luis Saez, Maximum Security again displayed a hallmark trait of his 3-year-old year, finishing strong with a stellar stretch-drive kick, drawing away from Spun to Run to hit the wire in a 1:36.46 final time.
“We were concerned. I didn’t get up out of the chair until late stretch. This track was very slow today and it was hard to go fast and sustain that,” Servis said. “I’ve got to hold back tears. He’s special, that horse. It’s just a shame because he was the best horse in the Derby.”
The New Year’s Day colt, making his debut at the Big A following a smart 1 ¾-length score in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler in October at Belmont, has only once finished a race in second in nine career starts, with a runner-up performance in the Pegasus in June at Monmouth.
“He stumbled real bad in the Pegasus and I still think he wins that day. He gets away, opens up three and they have to work to get to him,” Servis said. “He very well could have gone undefeated. He’s truly special. If you watch the Bold Ruler, he switches leads and you almost can’t see it.”
Maximum Security returned $4.60 on a $2 win bet. The Kentucky homebred improved his career earnings to more than $1.8 million while bolstering his bid for an Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old.
“I’m the wrong guy to ask, but I think it would be hard to not give it to him,” Servis said. “Even if [two-time Grade 1-winner] Omaha Beach wins the [Grade 1] Malibu [on December 26 at Santa Anita], I don’t think his form looks anything like ours.”
Saez ended his afternoon with consecutive wins in prestigious stakes, piloting Shotski to victory in the Grade 2, $250,000 Remsen in Race 9, earning the juvenile 10 qualifying points to the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Bouncing back from the infamous edition of the “Run for the Roses,” the 27-year-old has guided his charge to three consecutive graded stakes wins.
“It’s a big deal to win the Cigar Mile here,” Saez said. “He’s a fighting horse. I knew the other horse [No. 6 Spun to Run] has a lot of speed. I knew we had to fight, so my attitude was let’s see what happens. That’s what we brought him here to do and we just battled. He felt amazing. When we hit the turn, I knew we had a lot of horse. He gave me everything and it showed. He was amazing.”
Gary West said the Grade 1, $9 million Pegasus World Cup on January 25 at Gulfstream remains the next target.
“If the horse comes out of this race fine, then the Pegasus will be his next stop,” West said. “My personal opinion is he ought to be the 3-Year-Old Eclipse Award winner. I don’t think anyone has the credentials that he has demonstrated throughout the entire year. He’s had setbacks with colic and fought through some things, but that was a pretty impressive race we saw there.”
Robert Donaldson’s Spun to Run, a fellow sophomore, made a strong account of himself in his first start since winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last month at Santa Anita, challenging Maximum Security before outkicking True Timber by two lengths to complete the exacta.
Trained by Juan Guerrero, the Hard Spun colt, who also won the Grade 3 Smarty Jones in September at Parx, earned graded stakes blacktype for the fourth time.
“The race came out like I expected. Maximum Security is a great horse. My horse ran his race, we just couldn’t beat him,” Guerrero said. “I’m very proud of my horse. It seemed like we were never going to catch him once Maximum Security got the lead. We had to settle for laying right off of him.”
True Timber, the 2018 Cigar Mile runner-up, went off at 32-1 but finished strong, a half-length in front of Looking At Bikinis, to finish third for a third straight stakes race. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, True Timber added to his efforts in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler and Grade 2 Kelso Handicap in September at Belmont.
“He tries hard every time. We’re very proud of him to be third. He ran very well today,” McLaughlin said.
Forewarned, Bal Harbour, Whitmore, Network Effect, Nicodemus, Pat On the Back and Tale of Silence completed the order of finish.
As the finale of the 10-race card, the Cigar Mile capped a day of racing that saw a mandatory payout of $6,384.50 for each 20-cent winning ticket in the Empire 6 wager. The Empire 6 requires the bettor to select the first-place finisher of the final six races of the card. On non-mandatory payout days, if one unique ticket exists, then 100% of the net pool, plus the jackpot carryover if applicable, will be paid to the winner. If there is no unique wager selecting the first-place finisher in all six races, then 75% of the day’s net pool will be distributed to those who selected the first-place finisher in the greatest number of races. The remainder will be added into the jackpot and carried to the next day’s Empire 6.
The four-day Cigar Mile Festival will conclude on Sunday with the finale of the Aqueduct fall meet, highlighted by the $100,000 Garland of Roses in Race 4 and the rescheduled $200,000 Fall Highweight in Race 9. First post for the 10-race card is 11:50 a.m. Eastern.
Via NYRA Press Release