His stable is not nearly as large as some of the other big name trainers, but when the Breeders' Cup gets underway in just over two weeks, Ken McPeek is likely to have more starters than anyone in the four juvenile races.
McPeek is expected to have at least one starter in each of the juvenile events--the Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Fillies Turf, Juvenile, and Juvenile Fillies. And based on what he told me today, he may have two additional starters pointing for Santa Anita. That would be a total of six for a guy who has saddled 10 starters since 1994.
McPeek, a Lexington native, has a knack for picking out quality yearlings and turning them into stars. Remember, he was the one who signed the $57,000 ticket for Curlin in 2005. This year, he is at it again with several others, including House of Grace and Beautician--two that he picked out at Kentucky sales.
As always, most of the 2-year-old races will be wide open at the Breeders' Cup. It would be wise to keep an eye out for McPeek starters in all of them.
By the way, be sure to return to our live blog on Friday. We'll talk about all things Breeders' Cup from noon-1 EDT. There will be live blogs all week during the BC.
JS: Let me ask you about each of your juveniles Ken. Let's start with House of Grace, who will go in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. She is owned by you and your wife. What do you like about her?
KM: She not what I call an obvious filly; she's on the smallish side. But she's real intelligent and handles herself right. It was a nice surprise when she handled the Polytrack so well (in the off-the-turf Jessamine Oct. 15).
JS: Does it concern you that she will come into the race without a turf prep?
KM: Not at all. She should be able to get back to the turf without any problem. I give her a pretty good shot.
JS: How about Beautician in the Juvenile Fillies? She had that troubled trip in the Alcibiades and still lost by only 3 1/2 lengths.
KM: Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It was disappointing but at the same time we realized she is better than what she was able to show. We saw what we wanted in the Spinaway (runner-up on Sept. 6) and we'll proceed to California with confidence.
JS: Noble's Promise (Juvenile) surprised many of us in the Breeders' Futurity when he won at 13-1, but I guess not you. You said after the race you had high hopes for him.
KM: The race he ran before that at Presque Isle was very impressive so we knew he could run. I didn't know how he'd handle the two turns and that was the big question mark. I told Willie (Martinez) to ride him with patience and if he got beat I would take the blame.
JS: He's showed speed in his three wins. Do you see Noble's Promise being near the lead in the Breeders' Cup?
KM: No, I don't. I still want Willie to ride with patience and give him a chance with his late kick. That race is usually won in the last three-eighths, so I'd prefer he not be up front.
JS: What about Bridgetown in the Juvenile Turf? What kind of horse is he?
KM: He's very fast; similar to Noble's Promise. I was wondering about the stretch out in the (Summer Stakes at Woodbine Sept. 19), but he handled it fine. He's a good-looking colt.
JS: So that's four you will be sending to the Breeders' Cup?
KM: Actually, we're hoping to send two more juveniles. We have Connie and Michael, who broke her maiden impressively last week (by almost eight lengths Oct. 17 at Keeneland). If she gets in the juvenile Fillies we'll send her too.
And then we have Fist of Rage in the Juvenile if he gets in. He won at Keeneland last week in his first start. The other four shipped out (to California) today. We'll see what happens with the other two.
JS: So you'll have at least one starter going in every juvenile race and maybe more. Of your 10 previous Breeders' Cup starters, I think eight were juveniles. What is about your training method that allows you to have so much success with 2-year-olds?
KM: Well, I think you have to have the timing right to get them there. And you also have to have the right foundation under them. Many of my young horses are with Domenick Brennan in Ocala, and he does a nice job of getting them ready. At some point you have to give them a shot at going longer and then you just hope they can handle it.
JS: You haven't had a winner yet, but you've been close at the Breeders' Cup. I guess you're hungry for that first one?
KM: Yeah, we've been knocking at the door. Dream Empress was second last year in the Juvenile Fillies, Repent was second in the Juvenile (in 2001), and Tejano Run was third in the Classic (1994). I think there was one other (She's a Devil Due third in Juvenile Fillies). We're hoping to get over the hump this year. We've got our fingers crossed.
I credit my clients who give me the opportunity to be in this position, and my staff, who does a great job of getting the horses ready. We're hopeful with all of them this year. I'm grateful to be in this position. Hopefully we won't embarrass ourselves when we get out there.