Ex-McPeek runner Maserati revs jump career

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Ken McPeek had just won the Travers with 34-1 shot Golden Ticket, in a crazy dead heat with favorite Alpha, and everybody wanted a moment of the trainer’s time. But he still had work to do on that August afternoon at Saratoga Race Course in 2012.

“I’ve got a horse in the next race,” he said, and headed for the paddock. He actually had two horses in the race and I remember bolting for the paddock, too, doing a bit of an end-around to get in front of McPeek and meeting him in the walking ring. I got a couple of minutes of exclusive interview after he legged up two jockeys in the day’s 13th race. McPeek accepted 250 (cautious estimate) congratulations, took as many deep breaths and uttered even more, “Can you believe that?”s.

NYRA staffers wanted him at the Travers press conference. McPeek wanted to watch his horses run. Everybody compromised and wound up at the overhead television by the jocks’ room.

“This Point Given horse might be OK, I kinda like him,” McPeek said as the maidens started loading in the gate. “I want to see how he does in here.”

McPeek’s horse, a 3-year-old first-time starter, was 29-1 in a field of 12 and he did OK – finishing sixth after being far back early. He got beat less than 4 lengths.

Almost four years later, he’s a steeplechase stakes winner. Maserati won the $75,000 Queen’s Cup novice hurdle stakes April 30 and returns as one of the major players in Saturday’s $75,000 Marcellus Frost at the Iroquois. The 7-year-old has never been worse than third in five hurdle starts for trainer Leslie Young, and has won his last two.

McPeek loves it.

“He found his niche,” the trainer said Thursday. ” If a horse is going to do better at that than they are on the racetrack, then let them do their thing. As a flat horse, he just wasn’t good enough. He didn’t have enough turn of foot, but we knew he could go all day. He was a good, solid, consistent 30 claimer.”

Bred in Brazil, and purchased at auction by McPeek, Maserati lost his first eight starts including that Saratoga maiden race. He finally broke through with a win (for a $30,000 claiming price) at Oaklawn Park in 2014. He won next out at Keeneland (for $40,000), but was running for $20,000 at Saratoga that summer.

Young and McPeek are friends and he said she should look at the horse. She loved him and got a check.

“I’m lucky I have a good rapport with him,” Young said McPeek, whose Saratoga shedrow is in the traditional steeplechase spot at the Oklahoma Annex. “You have to believe in the people who are helping you.”

Since switching genres, Maserati has done nothing wrong  – winning on the flat at Penn National shortly after the purchase, winning his third start over jumps last season, winning on the flat again at Suffolk Downs last summer and closing last year with an allowance hurdle win. He ruled at the Queen’s Cup, taking over late and drawing off by 3 lengths. Over fences, he’s earned $80,600.

McPeek trained eventual hurdle stakes winner Quem Se Atreve (a Brazilian import) on the flat, and even had a steeplechase starter himself in Old Man Buck in 2009 so the jump game isn’t all that foreign to the trainer.

“I buy horses with a really long hip on them, a certain type of hind leg,” he said. “If they don’t have any speed, they can go do things like that. I might have told my partners to keep him and run him over jumps ourselves, but most people in flat racing don’t have the patience for that. Einstein (a Grade 1 winner of $2.9 million also imported from Brazil) would have been one hell of a steeplechase horse.”

A Glance at Saturday’s Field
Restricted to horses that have not over jumps prior to March 1, 2015 or which have not won three races, the 2 1/4-mile Frost is the second richest race on the $450,000 card at Nashville and lured a deep field of 10.

Maserati, owned by Amy Taylor Rowe, carries 156 pounds including jockey Paddy Young. Rowe and Young also entered Dyna’s Vow, who finished third in a handicap at the Queen’s Cup.

Last year’s novice champion African Oil casts a long shadow for owner Gary Barber and trainer Kate Dalton. The 6-year-old won the Nashville maiden in 2015, and parlayed that into an allowance win in June and a Saratoga novice stakes score in August. The former racetrack rogue (and graded-stakes performer) missed the rest of the season with a minor injury, but seeks his fourth consecutive win. Bernie Dalton keeps the ride.

Second behind Maserati at the Queen’s Cup, Express Line returns for Joe Fowler and Kate Dalton. The 4-year-old gets in with a feathery 138 pounds (including Mark Watts) while making his third hurdle start. Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Class Cherokee finished third in that race and seeks his third jump win for trainer Richard Valentine. The Valentine barn will also be represented by recent maiden winner Personal Start.

Last year’s top 3-year-old, Ice It, opened 2016 with a stylish allowance win at Atlanta for trainer Jack Fisher and DASH Stable. The son of Tapit (they can do this too, apparently) will be ridden by Connor Hankin at 141 pounds. Fisher also entered Dye Fore, who was pulled up in the Carolina Cup to start this year after winning twice in 2015 for owner Gill Johnston.

Beaten a nose when second in a 3-mile handicap over the course last year, and a winner at 2 miles there in 2014, Tempt Me Alex makes his 2016 hurdle debut for Bob Kinsley and trainer Elizabeth Voss. Jack Doyle rides the 7-year-old son of Afleet Alex. Nashville’s Gigi Lazenby will be represented by Saratoga winner Hardrock Eleven, who goes out for trainer Doug Fout and jockey Kieran Norris. 

Additional reporting by Sean Clancy.