OCEANPORT N.J. — They had to wait 2 1/2 months, so what was another 2 1/2 hours?
Nothing will ever make up for what went down after the Kentucky Derby, but when you are Jason Servis and you spent 22 years as a valet in the Monmouth Park jockey’s room, training the winner of your home track’s biggest race will certainly do.
After another bizarre day in a year of bizarre days at American race tracks, Maximum Security proved what was obvious at Churchill Downs on May 4. The colt that could have been claimed for $16,000 in his first start is the best 3-year-old in the country.
Given a perfect ride by Luis Saez, whose imperfect ride on the far turn of the Derby drew enough scrutiny to get the colt disqualified from first to 17th that day, Maximum Security held off Mucho Gusto in the stretch to win the $1 million Haskell Invitational by 1 1/4 lengths on Saturday. Spun to Run, stabled at Parx for trainer Carlos Guerrero, ran a terrific race, finishing third at 34-1.
Every track from Maryland to upstate New York cancelled Saturday because of the heat — except for Monmouth Park which was apparently under some governmental pressure to cancel. The first race was delayed 38 minutes. They ran the second, cancelled six races and then waited nearly 5 hours to run again.
The Haskell was the last of six stakes that were run starting at 6 p.m. The original Haskell post time was 5:47 p.m. The race finally went off at 8:12 p.m.
In the end, the right horse won. Maximum Security ran the mile and an eighth in 1:47.56 and paid $3.60.
The Derby DQ is being appealed by owners Gary and Mary West. That is a longshot. There was a brief inquiry into an incident on the far turn of the Haskell involving Maximum Security, but, before the riot police needed to be called, it was quickly disallowed.
And Servis had the biggest "official’’ win of his career at "his’’ track.
"I’ve been here 40 years,’’ the trainer said. "Never missed a year. It means a lot. I feel bad for Monmouth Park what happened today. I worked in that jockeys’ room for 22 years. No air conditioning. There was a fan on one end of the room and a fan on the other. That’s how it was.’’
So 93 degrees at post time was not really an impediment. When you have the right horse nothing else really matters. Maximum Security is fast and relentless and knows exactly where the finish line is located.
Maximum Security and Servis beat Mr. Haskell, trainer Bob Baffert and Mucho Gusto. Baffert has won it eight times. Servis won’t ever forget his first.
The Wests had last year’s 2-year-old champion Game Winner who is trained by Baffert. They have this year’s best 3-year-old in Maximum Secruity. If all goes according to plan, the two colts will meet in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 24.
Servis was thrilled with the Haskell, but he hasn’t forgotten the Derby. Nor is he likely to forget it.
"I think we were robbed,’’ he said.
Some agree. Others do not.