Considering Maximum Security’s successful return last month, playing against him in the Grade 1, $500,000 Pacific Classic at Del Mar will prove a difficult task for handicappers. The trainer switch from Jason Servis to Bob Baffert did not appear to affect him, as he ran deceptively better in his comeback than the margin suggests.
One of the other horses needs to move forward, either because of the longer distance or surface switch. This analysis will attempt to explore whether that is possible.
RELATED – First Look: Probables for Pacific Classic undercard
The 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic is carded as Race 10 with a post time of 3:30 p.m. ET.
1. Midcourt, 5/2 (Midnight Lute – John Shirreffs/Victor Espinoza – 12: 5-2-2 - $450,695): After enjoying a good trip, Midcourt gave the best performance of his career in the San Diego Handicap (G2). Once Maximum Security backed out of a speed duel, Midcourt set the pace by a small margin over Higher Power and led into the turn. When Maximum Security moved alongside him, Midcourt initially fought back against the champion before getting tired only toward the wire and settling for second. His impressive 127 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the runner-up finish is nothing to sneeze at. But there are two concerns. For one, Midnight Lute is not a great 1 1/4-mile sire, and Midcourt’s 0 for 2 record at the distance backs up this opinion. Also, the public projects to overbet Midcourt because he almost beat Maximum Security. Overall, Midcourt felt like the horse to use on top last time. Use underneath.
2. Higher Power, 9/2 (Medaglia d’Oro – John Sadler/Flavien Prat – 18: 5-2-7 - $1,504,648): The defending champion gets a few factors in his favor. First of all, horses peak in their second or third start off a layoff, and Higher Power makes his third start off the bench. Also, Higher Power stretches out to 1 1/4 miles again, and that will help him stay in the mix longer. Notice he ran slightly better in his runner-up finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) to Improbable, losing by 3 1/4 lengths, and then he failed to keep up in the Pacific Classic when third by 6 1/4 lengths. But Higher Power did not become very tired in the latter race. He just cannot accelerate the same way at middle distances as he can at 1 1/4 miles. Then again, watch Higher Power’s Aug. 16 work against the sprinter St. Joe Bay on XBTV. Perhaps by design, Higher Power outkicked his speedier stablemate toward the wire. With fitness not a question and the distance more in his favor, Higher Power is the second option. Win contender.
3. Mirinaque, 15-1 (Hurricane Cat – Mario Munoz/Tiago Pereira – 9: 4-4-0 - $302,896): With four wins in nine starts and eight exacta finishes, it is hard to knock his South American record. Two of his wins came in Group 1 races. But tackling an American Grade 1 race is a whole new challenge compared to a Group 1 in Argentina. It is preferable to only watch his debut on this continent rather than take a blind chance. If he performs well, then he is one to think about in the future. Toss.
4. Dark Vader, 20-1 (Tale of Ekati – Peter Eurton/Umberto Rispoli – 13: 3-3-3 - $275,645): Dark Vader barely won a local optional claimer by a neck in his most recent start, making it hard to endorse him for even a small piece. The runner-up Potantico previously lost by 4 1/4 lengths to Ax Man in an optional claimer at Santa Anita. Two starts ago, Dark Vader ran only a mild third in the Triple Bend Stakes (G2) against McKinzie, who seems a step slower this year. If handicappers want to use Dark Vader, he might fit somewhere underneath. This bettor will pass. Toss.
5. Maximum Security, 4/5 (New Year’s Day – Bob Baffert/Abel Cedillo – 11: 9-1-0 - $11,891,900): For those who think Maximum Security ran only a nose better than Midcourt in the San Diego, watch it again. On the backside, Cedillo chose not to engage Midcourt in a speed duel and took back slightly. It looks like Cedillo then wanted to tip outside and press Maximum Security, but Higher Power took that path. Through that process, Maximum Security lost a few lengths and gave Midcourt a comfortable lead. Yet Maximum Security came back and gradually wore down Midcourt in the stretch run in an impressive return victory. Earlier in the year, he also crossed the wire first in the Saudi Cup in a gutsy performance over Midnight Bisou. In this race, because Maximum Security is drawn outside of Midcourt, he does not need to lose ground on purpose in order to press or stalk. He also projects to move forward in his second start off the bench. He is the choice. The pick.
6. Sharp Samurai, 15-1 (First Samurai – Mark Glatt/Juan Hernandez – 20: 8-4-2 - $881,270): Although Sharp Samurai’s recent record is filled with turf races, he did break his maiden over dirt by 9 1/4 lengths in February 2017. His current turf form is good this year, with a second-place finish in the Eddie Read Stakes (G2) and third-place finish in the American Stakes (G3). Perhaps he could pick off a tired horse or two in the stretch run and complete the trifecta at a long price. Use underneath.
Maximum Security is the main choice. He owns an abundance of class and tactical speed, and most dirt horses with that combination are difficult to beat. Plus, he makes his makes his second start off the bench, which means he should improve.
But Higher Power’s recent workout with St. Joe Bay is too sharp to ignore. This horse loves the 1 1/4-mile distance and will take advantage if Maximum Security misfires. On paper, there is no reason for Maximum Security not to fire. However, he could get caught up in a speed duel with Midcourt or find a bad trip another way.
Use both Maximum Security and Higher Power in multi-race wagers. Otherwise, Higher Power is more logical for win bets or exotics wagers, as Maximum Security will pay almost nothing in those categories. If there is bridgejumping action on Maximum Security, then also think about a show bet on Higher Power.
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Tale of Ekati
New Year's Day