Division Rankings: Maximum Security can quiet his critics

Division Rankings: Maximum Security can quiet his critics
Photo: Doug De Felice/Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia

Few horses in the last decade have been as polarizing as Maximum Security. Don't believe it? Check out the comments section of anything written about him on this website. There are countless and passionate opinions of varying degrees about this controversial horse.

On one side you have his ardent supporters who believe that Maximum Security was robbed of Kentucky Derby glory via his disqualification. They see a rags to riches story -- his rise from $16,000 maiden claimer to the best in his age group. They remember his remarkable comeback win in the Bold Ruler (G3) after a colic scare that landed him in an equine clinic just weeks before. When the dust settled on 2019, the facts were this: Maximum Security still had finished behind only one horse in his nine race career and was crowned 3-year-old male champion.

Maximum Security still has his doubters, though. They want to see more. They see a horse who skipped the final two legs of the Triple Crown. Some likened his connections decision to skip the Preakness as sour grapes after the Kentucky Derby disqualification. After his Haskell Invitational (G1) win, those people wanted to see him run in the Travers Stakes (G1). Trainer Jason Servis and company took it easy on their horse, skipping straight to the Pennsylvania Derby (G1). The colic scare dashed hopes of running both there and the Breeders' Cup.

I also think there are many who hold some prejudice on Maximum Security given the fact he started his career in a $16,000 maiden claimer and then appeared in two starter allowances prior to his Florida Derby win.

That, however, keyed Maximum Security's development, Servis said in the run up to Saturday's $20 million Saudi Cup, where Maximum Security is the favorite in an international field of 14 -- nothing dodged here.

“Now he’s winning by 10, winning by 10, beating up on little kids," Servis said, looking back at Maximum Security's beginnings. "And when he went to the Florida Derby, it was like, well, ’This is what I’m supposed to do.’ He had three good races under his belt before he stretched out to a mile and an eighth, which I felt was very important.”

I am on the opinion that we have not yet found out how good Maximum Security can be. I was one of his doubters last spring and readily admit I did hold some prejudice against him heading into Kentucky Derby. But those doubts ended as soon as he crossed the finish line in Louisville. It was a stunning performance in my eyes given the dynamics of the race. Despite the DQ, the race Maximum Security ran in the Kentucky Derby told me all I needed know about his heart, grit, and talent.

I expect Maximum Security to win this weekend, and win in a convincing manner. I think he is that good. I don't think we have seen his best yet,  and there is a chance he goes on to make history this year on several fronts. He's potentially being undervalued by many, and I'm astounded at the amount of people who still don't believe in him. 

A few thoughts on some his rivals in this weekend's Saudi Cup where there are nine Grade 1 or Group 1 winners entered against Maximum Security.

I am a fan -- she was one of my three Horse of the Year finalists in 2019 -- but Midnight Bisou is ambitiously placed here. She has never come close to running numbers that can beat several of these entered. An on-the-board finish for her would be quite an accomplishment.

McKinzie is a horse many keep waiting on to come up with that signature win. But I really don't believe he is capable of beating a horse like Maximum Security. If he is to top the favorite, McKinzie needs to be in front turning for him. He won't dig in through the stretch like Maximum Security.

Mucho Gusto beat a watered down Pegasus World Cup (G1) field last out and was defeated by Maximum Security last summer in the Haskell. Although Mucho Gusto has improved since then, Maximum Security has realized more upside, too.

For both sides of the Maximum Security debate, the Saudi Cup will continue fascinating theater. And we'll surely hear about it in the comment section.

Here's a full look at the updated Division Rankings...

Older Dirt Males

1.  Maximum Security - The Champion Three-Year-Old Male of 2019 makes his highly anticipated 2020 debut this weekend in the Saudi Cup. If things go well in Saudi Arabia, he could stay in the Middle East for the Dubai World Cup (G1).

2.  McKinzie – Highly regarded since his debut at age 2, the son of Street Sense is still searching for a signature win. Two for seven last season but never out of the exacta, he will look to quiet cynics this weekend in the Saudi Cup.

3.  Mucho Gusto - He ran a big race in a watered down Pegasus World Cup (G1) and will get the sternest test of his career in this weekend's Saudi Cup. Still not convinced he belongs near the top.

4.  Code of Honor - Big things will be expected this year for the son of Noble Mission. Inconsistent last year, he did win the Travers Stakes (G1) but was up the track in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Will likely get another against Maximum Security, who he hasn't beaten across the wire in two tries.

5.  Gift Box - The San Antonio Stakes (G2) winner from last December, Gift Box will defend his title in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on March 7.

Next 5: Tom's d'Etat, Spun to Run, Warrior's Charge, Silver Dust, Midcourt.

Older Dirt Females

Midnight Bisou  In very tough for her 2020 debut in the Saudi Cup against males. A placing would be really impressive to me.

2.  Lady Apple - Started the season off with a win in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) while defeating her rivals from last season, Serengeti Empress and Street Band. Look for her to turn up next in Oaklawn's Azeri (G2).

3.  Serengeti Empress - She followed her strong third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff by just fading from the pace in the Houston Ladies Classic. A real threat around two turns and also sprinting. Will likely meet Lady Apple again on March 14.

4.  Dunbar Road - Last year's Alabama Stakes (G1) winner, excelling over various distances, should contend for the top spot this season. She's back in training with Chad Brown in Florida.

Come Dancing – Was great sprinting last year but also showed she could run longer, as evidenced by her runner-up finish to Midnight Bisou in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on Belmont day. Look for her in the Humana Distaff (G1) on Kentucky Derby day.

Next 5:  Guarana, Street Band, Ollie's Candy, Go Google Yourself, Pink Sands.


1.  Tiz the Law - Appears to have the tools to make a serious run in the classics. As the Holy Bull (G3) winner in his seasonal debut, the only knock I have on him is that he runs just once more, the Florida Derby (G1) in late March, prior to the Kentucky Derby.

2.  Nadal - I don't normally move a horse this high after his first stakes win, but I really feel like this guy is for real. He should relish the longer distances after the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2) with the Rebel (G2) next.

3.  Sole Volante - Loved his win in the Sam F. Davis (G3) over Independence Hall, but I feel like his best distances will be between 8-9 furlongs, not all of 1 1/4 miles.

4.  Independence Hall - I wasn't as impressed with his runner-up effort in Tampa as others were. Will he like added ground? Will continue on the Kentucky Derby trail with plans to be announced.

5.  Thousand Words - Unbeaten in three starts, he took the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old debut.

Next 5: Mr. Monomoy, Modernist, Authentic, Storm the Court, Eight Rings.


1.  Finite 
- She simply overpowered the field in the Rachel Alexandra (G2). I really felt like she was the horse to beat entering that assignment, even with the presence of British Idiom. The manner in which she won vaults her to this top spot. 

2.  British Idiom - Sure it was her first start since last fall, but she never threatened Finite, and I don't believe the result changes if they meet again in their next starts.

3.  Donna Veloce - She has been a close runner-up in two Grade 1 races in just three career starts. Will go next in the Santa Ysabel (G3) at Santa Anita on March 8.

4.  Venetian Harbor - Won the Las Virgenes (G2) by more than nine lengths in her stakes debut and could be something special.

5.  Tonalist's Shape - Daughter of Belmont winner Tonalist, she is 4-for-4 entering Saturday's Davona Dale (G2) at Gulfstream.

Next 5: Perfect Alibi, Wicked Whisper, Frank's Rockette, Inspiressa, Harvey's Lil Goil.

Turf Males

1.  Zulu Alpha - The Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) winner returns this weekend in the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream, facing Grade 1 winners Sadler's Joy and Channel Maker, among others.

2.  Annals of Time - The Sword Dancer (G1) winner last year, he could be the one to beat in this division for Bricks and Mortar's connections if he stays healthy.

3.  United - Almost pulled off a shocking upset in the Breeders' Cup Turf, losing to the eventual Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar by a head. Won the San Marcos (G2) to get his season underway. Will go next in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) in late March.

4.  Sadler’s Joy – This closer won the Red Smith (G3) last fall and most recently was sixth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf. Faces the No. 1-ranked horse in this division this weekend in the Mac Diarmida.

5.  Arklow - Winner of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont Park last fall, he disappointed in the Pegasus World Cup Turf when fifth.

Next 5: Instilled Regard, Bowies Hero, Mo Forza, Sacred Life, Channel Maker.

Turf Females

Uni – Not much separates this one and Sistercharlie from holding this top spot. Her first big target of 2020 looks like the Just a Game (G1) on Belmont Day.

Sistercharlie – Has only lost one race since June of 2018, in last November's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Connections have a four to five race campaign planned that could include a run against the boys in the Arlington Million (G1) in late summer. Back in light training at Palm Meadows gearing up for her 6-year-old campaign.

3.  Got Stormy
 – Simply didn't have it when finishing fourth, beaten two lengths in the Endeavour Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay in her seasonal debut. Her connections have made the bold decision to run her back against males on March 7 in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.

Starship Jubilee– In the best form of her life 36 starts in to her career. Won the Suwannee River (G3) to open 2-for-2 this season. Overall, she has won four of her last five starts and is a sleeper in a strong division.

Magic Wand – Globetrotting mare again ran another big race in the Pegasus World Cup Turf, finishing second, and is in for the Saudi Cup to mark her dirt debut.

Next 5:  Rushing Fall, Cambier Parc, Beau Recall, Juliet Foxtrot, Jolie Olimpica.

Male Sprinters

1.  Imperial Hint – Handed Mitole his only loss of 2019 and will start his season off this weekend in Saudi Arabia in the new sprint stakes. The Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) is also on the radar for late March.

2.  Shancelot Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up seems like he could be the one to beat in this division. Will miss the Saudi Arabian sprint, however. Could we still see him in Dubai?

3.  Firenze Fire
– Perhaps this is the year this guy contends for the Eclipse. In career form, he started his season off with an easy win in the General George (G3) at Laurel Park. He has won all three of his starts since his fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

4.  Mind Control - Given a break after taking the Allen Jerkins (G1) at age 3, he kicked things off in 2020 with a win in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct and figures to hit some major Grade 1 targets this season.

5.  Whitmore - Started his year off with a runner-up effort in the King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn. Will go next in either the Hot Springs Stakes on March 7 or the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) on April 11, both also over his favorite track.

Next 5: Cistron, Bobby's Wicked One, Roy H, Share the Upside, Engage.
Female Sprinters

1.  Come Dancing – Inherits the top spot here after the sudden retirement of Covfefe. We'll see what kind Come Dancing can be later this season.

2.  Hard Not to Love - The retirement of Covfefe leaves a huge void at the top of this division. This Grade 1 winner in 2019 returned a winner in the Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita. Five for six in her career.

3.  Serengeti Empress - She was second to Covfefe sprinting in the Test (G1) last summer at Saratoga. This spring at Oaklawn Park it looks like she'll run around two turns.

4.  Break Even - Was on the same trajectory as Covfefe last year until injury cut short her season. Six-for-seven lifetime, she returns to the races this weekend in the Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn.

5.  Mia Mischief - Grade 1 winner from last year, she hasn't run since her win in the Dream Supreme Stakes last Fall. Back on the work tab for her new owner, Stonestreet Stables, she is at the Fair Grounds and remains with Steve Asmussen.

Next 5: Pink Sands, Special Relativity, Spiced Perfection, Royal Charlotte, Hotshot Anna.

Meet Chip Gehrke

Chip Gehrke has been with Horse Racing Nation since 2015 and currently serves as a Featured Writer. Based outside of Chicago, Chip can be found in the press box many weekends during the Arlington Park meet. The On The Air With Dr. Derby name originates from his local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. Now also a weekly contributor on FOX Sports radio's "The Fast Track," Chip can be heard giving his thoughts on the racing world every weekend.

In 2017, Chip was chosen to be a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. As a part of the NTWAB, Chip became a voter for the year-end Eclipse Awards, something he takes very seriously. Some of Chip's favorite writings from the last couple of years is the best way to get to know him, along with following him on Twitter at @doctorderby.

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