Maximum Overdrive

King Lear, MacBeth, Henry IV, Maximum Security. The more Maximum Security races the more Shakespearean his career becomes. He now has surpassed Max's Hot Dogs as the most popular Max on the Jersey shore.

But, boy, would Shakespeare have loved to write about this horse's adventures. How about The Tempest 2? After all, the definition of tempest is "Furious agitation, commotion, or tumult, and uproar."

So, let's tell the furious, tumultuous, and uproarious story of Maximum Security with, of course, some help from The Bard, as he might have told it.

First we have to go back and recall the humble beginnings of a colt no one wanted; a colt they couldn't give away; a colt who nevertheless would rise, through a series of history-making controversies, to the top of the 3-year-old division.

Maximum Security is a colt owned and bred by longtime owners Gary and Mary West. The Wests' racing manager and bloodstock agent of 25 years, Ben Glass, couldn't give the colt away for $15,000 as a yearling and had to resort to running him first time out in a $16,000 claiming race, for which there were no takers.

But that's where the story takes the first of several Shakespearean twists. "We know what we are but know not what we may be." - Hamlet

They knew what this colt was, but most certainly had no idea what he may be. Not only could the Wests not give this colt away, they couldn't give his sire and his dam away, which likely contributed to Maximum Security being unwanted. Glass finally sold the sire, New Year's Day, for dirt cheap to a Brazilian syndicate. His dam, Lil Indy, for whom West paid $80,000 in foal to future Triple Crown-winning sire Pioneerof the Nile, was sold (in foal to New Year's Day) for a meager $11,000 and sent to Korea.

Why so cheap? She actually had sold as a yearling for a paltry $2,200 and hadn't produced any horses who could run a lick. The resulting Pioneerof the Nile foal finished out of the money in all five of her starts. Lil Indy's third foal, a full brother to Maximum Security, ran in $7,500-$10,000 claiming races and finished out of the money in six of his final seven races.

In addition, Maximum Security was a late foal, born May 15, and his knees didn't close (the bones didn't fuse together). Glass tried to sell him for $15,000 as a yearling, but no one was interested even at that bargain basement price. He was a beautiful-looking colt, but when Glass took some people out to the farm to show them several yearlings they had for sale, no one liked this colt.

So there was only one thing to do. Shakespeare has written many expressions that are often used today, and in the case of Maximum Security it was "Send him packing." - Henry IV

Well, at least they tried. The Wests, with more than 100 horses, needed to get rid of those who didn't measure up, and this colt, physically and family-wise, certainly didn't measure up. They decided to wait until July for his knees to close so they could eventually run him for a claiming tag. They sent him to trainer Jason Servis along with several other maidens they needed to cull and told him to move them along, or in other words, get rid of them. But Maximum Security immediately came down with sore shins, so they had to wait for him to get healthy. When he did, Glass told Servis to put him in for a $16,000 claiming tag.

And so Maximum Security looked in the mirror, pondered his future and asked, "Who is it that can tell me who I am." - King Lear

The Wests, meanwhile, did have a colt named Game Winner for whom they had high hopes and who looked like a Kentucky Derby horse, and in fact was undefeated at 2, captured the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and was the early favorite for the Run for the Roses.

After nearly three decades it looked as if their prayers might be answered. "O for a horse with Wings!" - Cymbeline

But in life, you never know how the drama will unfold. As Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts."

And so it would be that Maximum Security and Game Winner would play many parts in this play.

The first hint of doubt regarding Maximum Security came when he got over his shin problems and Servis told Ben Glass, "You know, this horse might be better than we think."

Shakespeare said, "Modest doubt is the beacon of the wise." But, "might" and "think" weren't enough and Glass went ahead with the plan to run the colt at the low level claiming ranks and cut bait. If no one wanted him, they would just keep running him where they felt he belonged.

Maximum Security ran for a $16,000 claiming tag and shocked everyone by winning by nearly 10 lengths. He was practically a giveaway, but the claiming box was empty. Still, no one wanted the colt. But in racing, where mistakes are plentiful, there is no looking back. "What's done is done." - Macbeth.

Max (let's call him that from now on) then ran twice in starter optional claimers against other claiming horses and won by 6 1/2 lengths and a whopping 18 1/4 lengths. That is when Max came to the realization that Shakespeare was correct when he wrote, "It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves." He was now on a mission to prove everyone wrong.

He promptly went out and crushed his opponents in the Florida Derby to establish himself as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby, while Game Winner would lose his first two races at 3 in close finishes.

Ben Glass and Gary West, meanwhile, were thrilled to have been so wrong about Max. As they might have said, "If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me." - Macbeth

But no one could have predicted the soap opera and the seething controversy that would play out in the Kentucky Derby. When Max crossed the finish line first, the Wests' longtime dream had come true and there was unbridled joy. But, "Thus sometimes hath the brightest day a cloud." - Henry VI

And the cloud that rolled in some 20 minutes later would plunge the Wests and Ben Glass into a darkness no horse owner had ever experienced. The Churchill Downs stewards would make Max the first horse to be disqualified from first in the history of the Kentucky Derby. He had gone from famous to infamous in a matter of minutes.

Gary West's joy turned to grief and then to anger. "Let grief convert to anger. Blunt not the heart, enrage it. Let this anger sharpen your sword. Don't block the feelings in your heart; let them loose as rage." - Macbeth

His message to the Churchill Downs stewards was clear and to the point. "Come not within the measure of my wrath." - Two Gentlemen of Verona

Instead of post-race celebrations came anguish, protests, and eventually law suits. West would not go down without a fight.

Servis, meanwhile, remained his usual low-keyed self and went about the business of training his other horses, which included a number of top-class individuals. Servis is not the demonstrative type and doesn't divulge a lot when it comes to his feelings and inner thoughts, obviously heeding Shakespeare's words, "Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice." -- Hamlet

The second act shifts to Monmouth Park and Max's return to the races. Back at his home track where he is still admired and honored as a hero, Max suffered a surprising defeat in the Pegasus Stakes, but after stumbling at the start and apparently in need of the race. The main goal was the $1 million Haskell Invitational, Monmouth's premier event. That is the race they wanted and needed to restore Max's reputation and return him atop the list of leading 3-year-olds. He at least would have the backing of the hometown crowd, who wanted nothing more than to revel in the victory he was denied at Churchill Downs.

For Max, he had one thing on his mind. "The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation." - Richard II

This was the time and place to restore that reputation. And so, Max went out and turned back the challenges of his two main foes - the Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto and his conqueror in the Pegasus Stakes, King For a Day - proving once again, "What's past is prologue." - The Tempest. For Max, it has never been about looking back. It has always been about the present and the future and proving his worth race by race.

He had proven his courage under fire, he had shouted to everyone: "Once more unto the breach. When the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger."- Henry V

But what's this? An inquiry sign? Again? Not this time. This time the Monmouth stewards would take a quick look and yank the inquiry sign right off the board in just a few short minutes.

The horse no one wanted; the horse they couldn't give away; the horse who ran for a lowly $16,000 claiming tag, was, for the moment, back seated on "This royal throne of Kings." - Richard II

Jockey Luis Saez can finally rejoice and praise his noble steed. "When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk; he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes." - Henry V.

Two and a half months after the Derby debacle, Maximum Security is back where he was during those all too brief 20 minutes of exultation at Churchill Downs when he was still an undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby and America's Cinderella horse.

Shakespeare, as usual, said it best, "As full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer." - Henry IV

Yes, we know now that Max is still the same horse we saw in Kentucky. Only the future will tell the full text of his story. But for now, he has certainly proven Shakespeare’s words correct. “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”

Max’s fans hope the play from which that is from describes the final chapter: “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

That Shakespeare sure knows how to spin a good yarn.

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