Division Rankings: Maximum Security's return looms large

Division Rankings: Maximum Security's return looms large
Photo: Ryan Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

It’s been over five months since Maximum Security captivated horse racing fans around the world with his gritty win in the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup. Crossing the wire first in nine of 10 starts -- including the Kentucky Derby (G1), where he was demoted to 17th for interference -- there was no doubt who was the best dirt horse in the world. 

Showcasing his relentless will to win in the stretch at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Maximum Security already was under a ride on the far turn, and at that point, not many would have called him the winner. But turning for home, the son of New Year’s Day never gave up. 

Maximum Security initially tried to pass leader Mucho Gusto on the outside but that rival drifted out so jockey Luis Saez had to steer him to the leader’s inside, only to have Mucho Gusto come back in just as he was making headway. Meanwhile, Midnight Bisou, who had been at the absolute rear turning for home, was closing on the rail. Inside the final sixteenth, Maximum Security finally passed Mucho Gusto and then held Midnight Bisou at bay by three-quarters of a length. 

Maximum Security silenced the few remaining doubters he had with this latest win. 

Nine days later, the past and future of Maximum Security were under scrutiny and in question when trainer Jason Servis was federally indicted with several others on charges of “widespread, corrupt scheme by racehorse trainers, veterinarians, PED distributors and others to manufacture, distribute, and receive adulterated and misbranded PEDs and to secretly administer those PEDs to racehorses under scheme participants’ control.” 

Yes indeed, much has changed in racing and in the world since that last Saturday in February. 

Two weeks after the Saudi Cup, Maximum Security was given a full medical evaluation and some down time, then transferred to trainer Bob Baffert in Southern California. His first gallop for Baffert was in late April, and his first work was June 1. 

Now with several works under his belt, Maximum Security is ready for his return to the track in this weekend’s San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. 

The San Diego is no stranger to interesting storylines. 

The 2017 and 2016 renewals were must-see events for all racing fans. Arrogate used the 2017 San Diego as his return to the races after a Dubai World Cup triumph several months before. He was defeated by an up and comer at the time, Accelerate. And in 2016, California Chrome and Dortmund put on a show for the Del Mar fans in a dramatic renewal. 1998 marked Silver Charm’s highly anticipated return to the races, and 1990 saw Hall of Famer Bayakoa take on Quiet American. 

For Saturday’s race, there is no way around it: Maximum Security has a lot of questions to be answered. First race with a new trainer, first race in California. Will he be the same horse we saw in Saudi Arabia and before? Make no mistake, this is a gigantic race for Maximum Security, and his new trainer knows it. “When I see him train, he trains like a really top horse,” Baffert said. “That's what I see, and I'm actually very excited, and a little bit nervous. I feel a little added pressure; there's a lot of pressure when you're around good horses.” 

Assigned 127 pounds for Saturday’s race, Maximum Security carries more weight in the San Diego than any horse since Native Diver toted 131 pounds in 1965. This years’ San Diego came up very deep. Three Grade 1 winners are entered, the most in any renewal in more than 35 years. And lastly, more drama for the Maximum Security camp. His regular jockey, Luis Saez, tested positive for COVID-19, which means he will have a new rider. Local jock Abel Cedillo will get the mount on Saturday. 

Still ranked No. 1 in these rankings, Maximum Security has deserved his place at the top. Will he remain there after this weekend? That remains to be seen, but count me among those who believe he will silence his doubters yet again this weekend.

With that, here's a look at this week's Division Rankings.

Older Dirt Males

Maximum Security - Returns to the races this weekend in the San Diego Handicap (G2). All eyes will be on the son of New Year's Day in his first start with trainer Bob Baffert. Although he is the best based off of what we have seen from him thus far, he hasn't run since February and questions abound due to the allegations of wrongdoing by previous trainer Jason Servis. Remember, he has finished behind only one rival in 10 career starts. Don't blame the horse for any wrongdoings by his former trainer. 

2.  Tom's d'Etat – Scorched the field in the Stephen Foster (G2) for his fourth straight win going back to 2019. It's how he is winning that is opening eyes as he has been extremely fast speed-figure-wise and is a serious Horse of the Year contender. He does not take over the No. 1 spot because these rankings are about 2020, and the Foster was his first graded stakes win. He will run next in the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 1.

3.  Vekoma – Sensational in the Met Mile (G1), he jumps to No. 3 here based off of his two Grade 1 wins this season. Although he likely won't run around two turns for now, he is clearly one of the top older dirt males in the country. His connections have stated they will now wait for the Forego (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 29 in their march toward the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Since this year’s Breeders’ Cup is at Keeneland, the Dirt Mile would be run around two turns. Vekoma's lone win around two turns came in last year's Blue Grass (G2) at 1 1/8 miles.

4.  By My Standards – Was no match for Tom's d'Etat in the Stephen Foster but was easily the best of the rest. He started his season with a win in an optional claimer and then won the New Orleans Classic and Oaklawn Handicap, both Grade 2. He will point for a rematch with Tom's d'Etat in the Whitney.

5.  Code of Honor – Ran a good race in the Met Mile as he got up late for the show spot. Still not sure he belongs with the very best of this division, but we will know for sure next time out as he too will point to the Whitney.

Next 5: Improbable, Mucho Gusto, Warrior's Charge, Tacitus, Higher Power.  

Older Dirt Females

Midnight Bisou – Romped in the Fleur De Lis (G2) for her first win of 2020. The Saudi Cup runner-up to Maximum Security, she has never finished off the board in 20 starts and really has no distaffer close to her equal. Her career arc is now approaching the handful of past greats who have competed in the last 30 years. She will run next in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga on Aug. 1.

2.  Ce Ce  No excuses in the Santa Maria (G2) last out at Santa Anita, where she checked in a flat third. Still, with two Grade 1 wins already in 2020, she easily holds on to this spot.

3.  Ollie's Candy - You can throw a blanket over the next three or four here, but I am going to stick with Ollie's Candy for now even though she was beat last out in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. She attended a very fast pace and gets extra credit for shipping across the country from her California home base to get beat a nose and a neck. She will go next in  the Clement Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar on Aug. 2, a race she won in 2019.

4.  Fighting Mad - Won the Santa Maria (G2) in impressive fashion, defeating Ce Ce. Prior to that was off the board in the Desert Stormer Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. We will find out in her next start if she is a contender in this division.

5.  Monomoy Girl - In her second start back after a lengthy layoff, she won the Ruffian (G2) last weekend. While the field was suspect at best, she did what she had to do in defeating Vexatious by two lengths. Still has some questions to be answered. She will run next in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs on Sept. 4

Next 5: Dunbar Road, Point of Honor, Street Band, Guarana, She's a Julie. 


1.  Tiz the Law – Easily defeated an uninspiring Belmont field that was suspect at best. With several high-profile rivals out with injuries, I would expect him to hold down this spot for the entire summer. The Travers on Aug. 8 is his next scheduled start.

2.  Honor A. P. – The Santa Anita Derby winner appears headed to the ungraded Shared Belief Stakes run at a distance of 1 1/16 miles on Aug. 1. I guess he heads to this spot because of the 50 points being awarded to the winner of this "Road to the Derby" points race. Not a big fan of this decision, and he will skip major races such as the Haskell and Travers.

3.  Authentic – He barely held on in the Haskell (G1), but a win is a win. While I don't believe 10 furlongs is in his wheelhouse, he will nevertheless head to the Kentucky Derby for his next start. Based on his 2020 resume, he easily deserves this No. 3 spot. Won the San Felipe (G2) and Sham (G3) earlier this season.

4.  Art Collector - The winner of the Blue Grass (G2) for his first stakes win in his last start, he has really matured over his last two starts and appears to be a major player now for the upcoming Kentucky Derby. Love the move of running him in the Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9 for his final race prior to the Kentucky Derby.

5.  King Guillermo - Impressed me with his runner-up finish in the Arkansas Derby behind Nadal, showing everyone that his 49-1 upset win in his previous start, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), was no fluke. Apparently his connections have decided to sit him now for 126 days and train up to the Kentucky Derby. It's a questionable decision at best, in my opinion.

Next 5: Ny Traffic, Maxfield, Uncle Chuck, Dr. Post, Rushie.


Swiss Skydiver – Ran big in the Blue Grass (G2) against the boys where she beat all but the winner, Art Collector, quite handily. Widening her lead in this division, she will now set her sights on the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 15. 

2.  Gamine - Impressive winner of the Acorn by over 18 lengths for her first stakes win. She likely will appear again during the Saratoga meet in the seven-furlong Test Stakes (G1) on Aug. 8.

3.  Donna Veloce – Big things were expected this year from the daughter of Uncle Mo, and she certainly delivered in her first start of 2020, winning the Santa Ysabel (G3). She recently returned to trainer Simon Callaghan’s stable at Santa Anita after a springtime rest at a farm in Florida and remains a candidate for the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4 at Churchill Downs.

4.  Speech – Impressive winner of the Ashland (G1) last time out defeating Venetian Harbor, among others. Remember, in her two previous starts she was runner-up to Swiss Skydiver in the Santa Anita Oaks and to Gamine in an optional claimer at Oaklawn. 

5.  Venetian Harbor– Runner-up to Speech and Swiss Skydiver in her last two starts, she previously won the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita.

Next 5: Paris Lights, Finite, Shedaresthedevil, Sharing, Kimari, Crystal Ball. 

Turf Males

1.  Zulu Alpha - Moves back to the No. 1 spot he held for several weeks earlier this season. Back from a brief freshening, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) winner was impressive winning the Elkhorn (G2) in his last start at Keeneland. 

2.  United - Scheduled to run this weekend in the rescheduled Eddie Read (G2) at Del Mar. Will have a chance to reclaim the top spot should be win that event. He's 2-for-2 on the year, both graded stakes.

3.  Factor This - Made it three straight graded stakes wins, all in wire-to-wire fashion, with his narrow win in the Wise Dan (G2) at Churchill Downs. This 5-year-old is in the best form of his career and an Eclipse contender for trainer Brad Cox.

4.  Instilled Regard - Quite the career renaissance this son Arch is in the midst of.  Grade 1 placed at age two on the dirt, he finished fourth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. He has found a home now on the grass at age 5 as he won his first Grade 1 race, the Manhattan at Belmont Park last time out. Now with two graded wins in the grass this season, he is very much in the Eclipse race here. Will go next in Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.

5.  War of Will - A major player on the grass now as he pulled off a remarkable win in the Maker's Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland last time out. He joined Secretariat and California Chrome as just the third horse in modern history to win a Triple Crown event and a Grade 1 turf race. He will continue on the lawn for his next start in the Woodbine Mile on Sept. 19.

Next 5: Raging Bull, Admission Office, Bemma's Boy, Rockemperor, Decorated Invader.

Turf Females

1.  Rushing Fall – Very impressive winner of the Jenny Wiley (G1) in her last start. Clearly, this is a different Rushing Fall as compared with the version that ran the past two seasons. Last year, she simply wasn't good enough, and the previous season her connections ducked the top mares in the division.  The Wiley was her career best effort, and she beat a top notch filly in Jolie Olimpica. This could be the year she may finally win the Eclipse that so many have felt she had the talent to do.

2.  Mean Mary – Took it to a new level last out when she romped in the New York Stakes (G2). With three graded stakes wins now on the season, previously winning Le Prevoyante Stakes (G3) and Orchid Stakes (G3), she takes over the top spot. Like Starship Jubilee, she is a surprise contender in this division. 

3.  Newspaperofrecord - Has rebounded very nicely from a disappointing 3-year-old season to take her first two races in 2020, both graded stakes. Her win in the Just a Game (G1) last out came at the expense of the defending champ of this division, Uni.

4.  Jolie Olimpica – Ran a winning race in the Jenny Wiley when runner-up to Rushing Fall. Earlier this season she won the Monrovia (G2) and Las Cienegas Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. Could be a major player in the Breeders' Cup Mile in the fall.

5.  Starship Jubilee – Will finally return this weekend after a four month break in the Ballston Spa Stakes (G2) at Saratoga. 3-for-3 this season, she has captured two graded stakes and can get back in the Eclipse race with a win over returning star Sistercharlie.

Next 5: Keeper Ofthe Stars, Juliet Foxtrot, Uni, Beau Recall, Got Stormy

Male Sprinters

1.  Vekoma 
- Like Mitole last year, he may run away and hide in this division as he now has a commanding lead here after his second straight Grade 1 win, this one in the Met Mile. Now 3-for-3 on the season. May run next month in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga.

2.  Whitmore -  Big race this weekend where he will run in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), taking on the No. 3 ranked Volatile. Earlier this season, he won the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. With two wins in three starts this season, he shows no signs of slowing down at age 7. 

3.  Volatile - We will find out out a lot about this guy this weekend as he travels to upstate New York and Saratoga to run in the Vanderbilt. He was last seen running in and winning his first stakes, the Aristides at Churchill Downs. An eight-length winner with an impressive speed figure, it was one of the most impressive sprint performances ever seen under the Twin Spires.

4.  Mind Control - Started off 2020 with a win in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) and the Tom Fool (G3) at Aqueduct. Just didn't have it in the Carter last out as his connections felt he didn't care for the off track, but he will get a chance to redeem himself a big way this weekend in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga.

5.  Network Effect - Has to move up here based off of his last two starts, where he was runner-up twice to Vekoma in the Grade 1 Carter and Met Mile. 

Next 5: Firenze Fire, McKinzie, No Parole, Flagstaff, New York Central.

Female Sprinters

1.  Guarana - Finally some clarity in this division as this gal takes over the top spot here after her game win in the Madison (G1) over a tough customer in Mia Mischief. Trainer Chad Brown has stated the year-end goal is the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Her next start will be the Ballerina at Saratoga on Aug. 8.

2.  Mia Mischief - Passed Guarana turning for home in the Ballerina and looked on her way to victory. A tough loss for sure, but she was clearly the best of the rest and will get more chances later this year to avenge the loss.

3.  Hard Not to Love - Hard Not to Love won the seven-furlong Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita, but in her last two starts she has tried to stretch out in the Beholder Mile and Santa Maria at Santa Anita, where she has performed admirably with a second and a third. She may need to be removed from this division because she will continue around two turns for her next start, the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar on August 2.

4.  Bell's the One – Ran a good race in the Madison, where she finished third. Belongs in the top tier of this division and could also run next in the Ballerina at Saratoga.

5.  Kimari - Second to the boys in the Group 1 Commonwealth at Royal Ascot, she was well clear of the 14 others. Her only other start this year resulted in a win at Oaklawn in the Purple Mountain Stakes. Her connections have the Breeders' Cup Sprint against males as their long-range goal.

Next 5: Come Dancing, Break Even, Special Relativity, Jean Elizabeth, Frank's Rockette.

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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