Can You Keep a Secret at Del Mar?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The title of this week's post has multiple meanings. If you've examined the field for Saturday's Torrey Pines Stakes (G3) at Del Mar, then you might already know which filly I'm keen to play.

But the title is also a reference to my opinion of Saturday's prestigious Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar. I believe the favorite possesses a secret weapon overshadowed by his general brilliance; a largely unheralded strength that will carry him to victory even over the testing distance of 1 1/4 miles.

There's plenty to cover, so let's start handicapping!

Race 4: Torrey Pines Stakes (G3)

Some bettors will gravitate toward #6 Provocation and #7 Merneith in this 1-mile test for 3-year-old fillies. Both are well-bred prospects who sold for lofty prices as a 2-year-olds, and both are conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

But Merneith is 1-for-6 overall and 0-for-3 racing two turns, which includes a sixth-place effort in a 1-mile turf allowance race at Del Mar two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Provocation has never run beyond 6 1/2 furlongs and is bred like a sprinter, considering she's a daughter of speed sire Into Mischief out of 7-furlong Matron (G1) winner Meadow Breeze.

I'm more interested in backing a different daughter of Into Mischief. The undefeated #2 Secret Keeper is 2-for-2 sprinting, but her she was produced by a Candy Ride mare, which brings a bit more stamina to the equation.

Trained by Clifford Sise, who has gone 7-3-0-3 (43% wins, 86% in-the-money) at Del Mar this summer, Secret Keeper rallied to an easy victory in her debut traveling 5 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita, then stretched out over 6 1/2 furlongs in a Del Mar allowance race and delivered an eye-catching performance. After pressing the early tempo, Secret Keeper took command and pulled clear to score by 2 1/4 lengths. Guess which fillies rounded out the trifecta? None other than Merneith and Provocation.

Secret Keeper's final time of 1:17.30 was reasonably quick over a dull track and produced solid speed figures of 85 (Beyer) and 96 (Brisnet). I'm optimistic this Pam and Martin Wygod homebred will improve while stretching out over a mile, and considering she's essentially gone unchallenged so far, there's no telling what kind of engine she might have under the hood.

#3 Harvest Moon, a runaway allowance winner over this course and distance on July 27, can vie with the improving Iowa Oaks runner-up #5 Aurelia Garland to round out the exacta.

Race 10: Pacific Classic (G1)

Coming into the Pacific Classic, I had planned on playing against #5 Maximum Security. The champion 3-year-old male of 2019 is easily the most decorated runner in the field, but his narrow triumph in the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar last month was a bit underwhelming, considering he was all-out to win by a nose with speed figures of 101 (Beyer) and 99 (Brisnet)-modest by his own standards.

But for a couple of reasons, I've changed my mind. For starters, the Pacific Classic field didn't come up all that tough. Maximum Security defeated three-time stakes winner #1 Midcourt and defending Pacific Classic champion #2 Higher Power in the San Diego, and the Pacific Classic newcomers-while certainly classy-appear manageable for Maximum Security to handle.

For example, #3 Mirinaque is a two-time Group 1 winner in Argentina, but he'll be facing tougher company in his U.S. debut. #4 Dark Vader prevailed in a 1-mile allowance race at Del Mar last month, but has come up short in six previous tries at the stakes level. And while #6 Sharp Samurai has thrived as a turf miler, he could be hard-pressed to stretch out over 1 1/4 miles while simultaneously switching to dirt.

But the primary reason I've decided to back Maximum Security has nothing to do with the caliber of his competition. To the contrary, it has to do with Maximum Security's tough-as-nails, refuse-to-lose attitude.

To put it simply, Maximum Security is a purse racehorse. He's crossed the wire first in 10 of his 11 starts and has frequently snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Remember his infamous run in the Kentucky Derby, where he was disqualified for ducking out and causing interference on the far turn? Lost in the controversy is the fact Maximum Security nearly spoiled his own chances as well, losing the lead at the top of the stretch. He could have folded under the pressure, but instead he battled back to defeat a deep field by 1 3/4 lengths.

Maximum Security has continued to show remarkable resilience in 2020. In the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup, he dropped farther off the pace than usual, then encountered traffic down the stretch as front-running Mucho Gusto drifted wide. Rather than concede defeat, Maximum Security dived back to the rail and somehow rallied to defeat the ground-saving champion mare Midnight Bisou by three-quarters of a length.

Even the San Diego Handicap was impressive in its own way. Maximum Security didn't seem to be making much headway down the backstretch and around the far turn, but he never stopped trying and tenaciously battled Midcourt down the stretch to prevail by a nose.

In short, Maximum Security is a horse who wants to win, and I believe this attitude will carry him to victory in the Pacific Classic. He handled 1 1/4 miles just fine in the Kentucky Derby, and trainer Bob Baffert has noted Maximum Security wasn't fully fit for the San Diego, so there's a chance Maximum Security will improve in his second start back from a five-month layoff. Certainly his recent workouts suggest he's sitting on a big effort-he clocked six furlongs in a bullet 1:12 4/5 on Aug. 9 and followed up with seven furlongs in a stiff 1:25 2/5 on Aug. 16.

It's hardly a creative opinion, but I'll be backing Maximum Security in the Pacific Classic. Now it's your turn! Who will you be playing this week?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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