Features

Ken McPeek stood in front of a dry erase board in his Saratoga office. Color-coded to denote horses stabled at Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Magdalena Farm and Saratoga, the ceiling-to-floor board lists a far-reaching battalion of horses, McPeek’s best string for a while. The Kentucky-based trainer won 103 races in 2009, but slipped to 50 each of the past two seasons. This year, he’s sent out 34 winners for $2.7 million, already ahead of last year’s earnings total. (Originally published in Aug. 24 issue of The Saratoga Special.)

“I went through a valley. I enjoy climbing the mountain rather than standing at the top, we’re real close,” McPeek said. “I’ve got a whole bunch of bullets towards the end of the month, it wouldn’t surprise me if we won four or five more before we leave, by my math, we’ve got about 17, 18 runners here.”

McPeek takes a red magic marker to highlight stakes assignments on the board – the targets range from Kentucky Downs to Korea. Yeah, Korea.

 “I judge myself on how many stakes I win every year,” McPeek said. “We’ve won 10 this year, the most I’ve ever won in a season is 19 and that was 2002.”

The Special’s Sean Clancy chatted with McPeek about his stable’s targets.

Daddy’s Lil Darling: Normandy Farm’s homebred looked like the stuntman’s version of True Grit when Oliver Peslier bailed out before the Investec Oaks in June. She returned from that aborted trip to finish fourth in the Belmont Oaks and fifth in the Coaching Club American Oaks here Opening Weekend. “She’s going to run in the Dueling Ground Oaks on September 10 and then probably come back in the QEII. She didn’t run well in the Coaching Club, I might have run her back quick.”

Ten City: A $12,000 purchase from the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale, the son of Run Away And Hide won his debut in April, won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor in June and finished third in the Ellis Park Juvenile Sunday. “He might be one of the best horses I’ve ever had my hands on, freaky good colt. Does everything right, trains like a 5-year-old, the sky’s the limit with him.”

Sunny Skies: Daughter of Animal Kingdom won her debut in April, captured the Debutante Stakes in her next start and finished third in the Ellis Park Debutante Sunday. “She’ll probably come back in the Pocahontas and then the Alcibiades.”

Senior Investment: Winner of the Lexington Stakes in April, Fern Circle Stable’s colt finished third in the Preakness, fifth in the Belmont Stakes and 10th in the Belmont Derby. “He’s doing well, he’s getting a little bit of a break. He’s pointing for the Oklahoma Derby.”

Pat On The Back: A $70,000 purchase at 2015 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale, the son of Congrats broke his maiden here last summer, won the Sleepy Hollow Stakes in October and picked up the Ontario County Stakes at Finger Lakes in June. “He was third in the New York Derby at Finger Lakes, he should be tough in the Albany.”

Oskar Blues: A $350,000 purchase from last year’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale, the son of Speightstown shocked a strong field of 2-year-old maidens here Aug. 12. Battling on the rail under Dylan Davis, the chestnut colt won by a nose and paid $69. “Surprised? Yes and no, the last work he had, he actually got outworked by Honorable Treasure, he’s another who should make your list, just a horse who keeps improving, he’ll jump forward even more. He trains like a machine, just a nice good-looking horse.”

Honorable Treasure: Son of To Honor And Serve won a Saratoga maiden a week after his workmate Oskar Blues won. The Kentucky-bred paid $9.20. “This horse trains like a beast.”

Wonderment: New York-bred daughter of Cosmonaut fetched $185,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky mixed sale in November, she won the Dancin Renee Stakes in June before finishing fourth in the Union Avenue Stakes last week. “She ran hard, that’s about her, she could have been a little luckier. Dylan did a good job, it was another solid race.”

Sky Promise: Steve Baker purchased the son of Sky Mesa for $55,000 from the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale last summer. “He’s going to the Kentucky Downs Juvenile going seven-eighths on Sept. 2. He just broke his maiden down there (at Ellis Park July 22).”

Kathballu: Five D Thoroughbreds’ homebred has won seven races, including three stakes, from 27 starts. She finished fifth in the Chicago Handicap in June. “She’s going to come back in the Open Mind at Churchill, she’s a good solid filly.”

John Tippmann: Kentucky-bred son of Tiz Wonderful has picked up a win and a second at Ellis Park this summer. “He’ll run as an entry with Sky Promise. Same thing, 2-year-old colt, coming off breaking his maiden.”

Classy Music: Another runner for Fern Circle Stable, the daughter of Maclean’s music won at Ellis Park July 7. “She broke her maiden by (4 3/4), she’ll run in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies, seven-eighths, 350.”

Purely A Dream: Bred by James Bredin and owned by Livin the Dream Racing 2015, the daughter of Pure Prize owns two wins, but hasn’t started since finishing ninth in the Edgewood in May. “She won the Bourbonette, she’ll come back at Keeneland, mile on the grass.”

Perfect Wife: A $90,000 graduate of the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale, the Fern Circle filly won two of her first three but hasn’t run since finishing 10th in the Grade 3 Honeybee in March. “She’s a stakes winner, she’ll probably run in the two-other-than at Kentucky Downs off the shelf.”

Blueridge Traveler: The son of To Honor And Serve attracted a $100,000 bid from McPeek at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale. “He was second in the Spiral, he had a little issue, got a little bit of time, he’ll come back for the fall.”

It’s Your Nickel: A $100,000 purchase from Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale in 2015, the son of Dialed In competed in some tough 3-year-old stakes this year. “He won the Battaglia and was third in the Illinois Derby, he’s coming back, he’ll run this fall.” 

Vettori Kin: Owned by Fern Circle Stable, Stud TNT and Old Friends, the 4-year-old hasn’t run since March. “He’s the Brazilian Derby winner, he ran in Dubai in his last race (in the UAE Derby), he’s being pointed for Keeneland. He needed some more time to acclimate, he’s been given that.”

Rated R Superstar: Radar Racing’s 4-year-old won the Carry Back last summer. “He’s galloping on the farm. He’s been freshened for the fall.”

The Truth Or Else: Owned by Harold Lerner and Magdalena Racing, the son of Yes It’s True graduated from the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale in 2013. “Here’s a good one. He’s been invited to Korea, it looks like he’s going. September 10. $600,000 going three-quarters, they say it’s like a listed, Grade 3 stakes. I’ll probably send Dylan, as long as he wants to go, we have to work out the logistics.”

Brockton George: McPeek purchased the Florida-bred for $280,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings. “He broke his maiden at Churchill impressively, he ran poorly in the Indiana Derby, he’s going to run in an a-other-than on Sept. 2.”

Eclipsed Moon: Two-year-old son of Malibu Moon cost $400,000 as a yearling and is aiming for a turf maiden Sept. 2. “He was second first time out at Ellis, then sixth here, rough trip. He’s a mile and an eighth dirt horse, but you don’t have that option for 2-year-olds. He’ll probably run on the grass again. He’s any kind of horse.”

Some In Tieme: Five-year-old son of Shirocco won the Louisville Handicap in May. “He was a top Brazilian horse. He’s getting ready, he’ll probably be pointed for the Laurel Turf Cup, then come back in the Sycamore.”