Kiss Off

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Ken McPeek went fishing at the Fasig-Tipton yearling sales. McPeek saw Jimmy Riccio, agent for Jose Ortiz and asked him what he was riding in the Grade 1 Alabama. 

 “I was fishing to see if he was riding anything tough,” McPeek said. 

Riccio shook his head, “I don’t ride it.”

McPeek didn’t miss a beat, “You do now.”

The final piece of a six-month plan for Eskimo Kisses was in place as McPeek switched from Kentucky-based Corey Lanerie to New York-based Ortiz.

Saturday, 12 days after that conversation at the sales, Ortiz followed McPeek’s instructions like they were on a headset from Belichick to Brady, allowing the chestnut filly to lag in last, 15 lengths behind second choice Talk Veuve To Me before unleashing a powerful move that decimated seven rivals. Owned by Gainesway Stable, Harold Lerner, Andrew Rosen, Nehoc Stable and Magdalena Racing, Eskimo Kisses won by 6 1/2 lengths over She’s A Julie and favorite Midnight Bisou. 

Walking in the middle of a jubilant group of friends and owners on their way to the winner’s circle, McPeek pumped his fist and smiled.

“That was awesome,” McPeek said. “We’ve been planning on that for months.”

Since Feb. 22, to be exact. 

Eskimo Kisses broke her maiden in her fourth start, taking a maiden at Oaklawn Park by a neck Feb. 1. She came right back to win an allowance race at Oaklawn Feb. 22. She won by 11 1/2 lengths and had McPeek thinking Alabama. She finished second in the Fair Grounds Oaks, then chased divisional leader Monomoy Girl in the Ashland and Kentucky Oaks, finishing second and fourth. All the time, McPeek looked down the road at the Alabama and its testing 1 1/4 miles. He freshened Eskimo Kisses at his farm in Lexington after the Oaks, just to soothe some aches and pains and put some weight back on the daughter of To Honor And Serve. Eskimo Kisses returned to the races with a fourth in the Coaching Club American Oaks here July 22. That was the perfect setup.

To read the rest of the Alabama recap, download Sunday’s digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by EasyFix Stable Solutions.