Now with Baffert, Maximum Security to face six in San Diego

Now with Baffert, Maximum Security to face six in San Diego
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

A half dozen well-tested handicap division horses were entered to take on Maximum Security as entries closed and the field was drawn Sunday for Saturday’s $150,000 Grade 2 San Diego Handicap.

The presence of mighty Maximum Security, heralded well in advance by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, didn’t deter the connections of six other horses from entering for the 79th running of the 1 1/16-mile main track event, which often has served as a stepping stone to the TVG Pacific Classic.

The field from the rail, with jockeys and weights in parentheses: Higher Power (Flavien Prat, 122); Ax Man (J.C. Diaz, Jr., 118); Midcourt (Juan Hernandez, 122); Dark Vader (Umberto Rispoli, 118); Maximum Security (Abel Cedillo, 127); Combatant (Drayden Van Dyke, 121) and Sharp Samurai (TBD, 119).

Maximum Security, a 4-year-old son of New Year’s Day and homebred for owners Gary and Mary West of Rancho Santa Fe, enters the race with eight wins in 10 starts and earnings of $11.8 million. Last year the bay colt was first under the wire before becoming the first disqualification in Kentucky Derby history, but posted three subsequent wins to secure the Eclipse Award as 3-year-old champion.

In his only 2020 start, Maximum Security won the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Luis Saez, aboard for the last seven starts, tested positive for the COVID-19 virus Friday at Keeneland, forcing Baffert to select a replacement. Baffert indicated Saturday that he would do so from the Del Mar colony and on Sunday gave the call to Abel Cedillo.

Cedillo, 31, a native of Guatemala, transitioned from the Northern to Southern California racing circuit in 2019 and finished third in Del Mar’s summer season before winning the riding title at the fall meeting.

A capsule look at the other San Diego entrants in post position order:

HIGHER POWER - The reigning TVG Pacific Classic champion, owned by Hronis Racing, is in the capable hands of Juan Leyva while regular John Sadler serves a suspension scheduled to end Monday.

A 5-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro, Higher Power has five wins from 17 career starts and earnings of $1,486,648. He was given a four-month break after finishing last of 10 in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup in January at Gulfstream Park and came back to finish second in the Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 6, beaten 3 ¼ lengths by Improbable.

AX MAN– A second Baffert representative, the 5-year-old son of Misremembered is owned by Patti and Hal Earnhardt III and has a career record of six wins in 13 starts and earnings of $288,917. He comes in off an allowance victory at 1 1/16 miles on June 20 at Santa Anita.

MIDCOURT– A 5-year-old gelded son of Midnight Lute, trained by John Shirreffs for the C R K Stable of Lee and Susan Searing, Midcourt has a career record of five wins from 11 starts and earnings of $420,695. He raced in three graded stakes at Santa Anita this year winning the Grade 2 San Pasqual in February, finished third, beaten three-quarters of a length by Combatant when favored in the Santa Anita Handicap, and then was eased after being hopelessly left at the start in the Hollywood Gold Cup in June.

DARK VADER- Trained by Peter Eurton for major clients Sharon Alesia, Joe Ciaglia and partners, the 5-year-old son of Tale of Ekati has two wins in 12 career starts and earnings of $243,845. He made his 2020 debut, after an 11-month layoff, with a third place finish, beaten 1 3/4 lengths by McKinzie, in the Grade 2, seven-furlong Triple Bend at Santa Anita on June 7.

He worked five furlongs Sunday morning in 1:01.80.

COMBATANT– A second Hronis/Leyva entrant (see Higher Power) the 5-year-old son of Scat Daddy has a career record of four wins in 25 starts and earnings of $1,033,098. The most recent win was a big one: the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 1.

SHARP SAMURAI -- Trained and part-owned by Mark Glatt, the 6-year-old son of First Samurai has run 16 of his 19 career starts on turf and recorded all but one of his eight victories on grass while earning $841,270. He’s also nominated for the $200,000 Grade II Eddie Read on turf on July 19.

Native Diver accomplished the still-unmatched feat of winning three straight San Diego Handicaps from 1963-65. Horses carrying the Hronis Racing colors have won the last three with Accelerate in 2017 and Catalina Cruiser in 2018-19.

2020 San Diego Handicap (G2)

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