After the news of the Jason Servis scandal hit, social media immediately erupted with comments such as “Of course he was using performance enhancing drugs on Maximum Security! How else would you explain how a horse goes from $16k claimers to winning grade one stake races?” One of the reasons that horse racing fans had embraced this blue collar colt was because his trainer wasn’t named Baffert, Lukas or Pletcher. To the backstretch workers, Jason Servis was living their dream, a small time trainer who had found his big horse. The Maximum Security story had all the makings for a Disney movie.
Until Jason Servis was indicted for using performance enhancing drugs on his racehorses. The fans felt angry, sad and betrayed and took to Facebook and Twitter to vent. Many pointed the finger at the improbability of Max’s success due to his former claiming status, stating that based on this alone, racing officials should have “known” that something fishy was going on.
But is it fair to judge all Thoroughbreds who have overcome modest breeding or came up from the claiming ranks are mere myths just because one trainer allegedly cheated? Of course not! Not all sudden reversals in form are caused by performance enhancing drugs. Sometimes small changes, such as adding blinkers or a tongue tie can bring about a big effort. A new jockey or trainer may finally uncover the key to making a certain horse perform its best. A change in racing surface, not just going from turf to dirt or vice versa but even a change to a different track itself may bring about a positive result.
Sometimes these improvements are the results of something happening behind the scenes such as a change in training methods. My first win as a trainer came as a result of switching from galloping my cranky back sore mare to having her ponied instead. Another trainer friend took a horse who hadn’t hit the board in two years and won seven races with it simply by getting the finicky animal to eat.
Sure it’s exciting when a blue-blooded multi-million dollar yearling goes on to become a champion, but when a Cinderella horse rises up from humble beginnings to capture glory, it also captures the heart of the nation. Horses such as Stymie, Seabiscuit, John Henry, Lava Man, and Charismatic were all former claimers that achieved rock star status. People loved them, embraced them and rooted for them simply because they’d started out as nobody’s. No one doubted the validity of these “Rocky” racehorses then nor should we doubt any future Rocky’s just because of the charges against Jason Servis.
The Maximum Security story may still have a happy ending. Now that the Wests have secured the services of Dr. Bramlage fans can rest assured that the health of their hero is in good hands. Max may yet go on to win more races free of suspicion and silence his haters once and for all. Regardless of the outcome to Max’s story, there will be another Cinderella horse. Perhaps it will be another former claimer or a cheaply bred horse in the vein of California Chrome with blue collar connections and a minor league trainer. Perhaps it will sweep the Triple Crown or race well into its golden years like John Henry. A horse to bring positivity to what has been a rough year for the Sport of Kings. A horse that will once again make us all believe that fairytales can come true.