Horse owners frequently pay a royal ransom to acquire a horse with potential to win the Kentucky Derby. A million dollars or more is not unheard of.
But anyone with $16,000 could have acquired Maximum Security after his debut late in December. Had someone struck boldly, they would now have the Florida Derby winner and an 8-1 shot to capture the Kentucky Derby. The colt will be the only undefeated horse in Saturday's Derby.
Potentially losing the horse for that price was a calculated gamble by trainer Jason Servis.
Servis entered Maximum Security in a claiming race, where every horse carries a price tag. In this instance, the unraced Maximum Security was available for $16,000.
The colt had been slow to develop. He hadn't shown much in his workouts over the summer at Monmouth Park.
Maximum Security picked up the pace in late fall when he shifted from New Jersey to Florida. That was the signal to Servis to start looking for a race. And up popped the spot for maiden claimers.
"I didn't think I'd lose him," Servis said. "It was the end of the year and people would assume we were trying to clear out a horse. If he had gotten claimed that day, I would have been upset."
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Fortunately for Servis and owners Mary and Gary West, there were no takers.
Maximum Security battled for the early lead before shaking free, romping to a 9 3/4-length victory.
"I thought he'd win," Servis said, "but I wasn't expecting a gallop like that."
That was the last time Maximum Security carried a claiming tag. He easily won his next two races, setting the stage for the Florida Derby.
As usual, Maximum Security went right to front, set a moderate pace and drew clear to a 3 ½-length win.
The former claimer had blossomed into a Grade 1 stakes winner with more than enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
"He's fresh," Servis said. "He's not a horse that's been behind and finished eighth or sixth or third. I've been careful with the spacing of his races. Walking around here, we have to put a chain on him to keep him on the ground."
This will be the second straight Derby starter for Servis. Firenze Fire finished 11th last year.
With a victory, Servis would carry on a family tradition. His brother John won the race with Smarty Jones in 2004.