By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Through the years, trainer
Kenny McPeek has saddled a bevy of Grade 1 winners. He's won the Preakness S.
(G1) with champion filly Swiss Skydiver. He's upset the Belmont S. (G1) with
unheralded 70-1 longshot Sarava.
But one race McPeek has yet
to win is the Kentucky Derby (G1). McPeek made his Derby debut in 1995,
saddling Tejano Run to finish second behind Thunder Gulch. Since then, McPeek
has sent out five additional Derby starters, most recently Java's War (13th)
and Frac Daddy (16th) in 2013.
Could 2022 be the year
McPeek completes his personal Triple Crown? Coming off a career-best year in
terms of purse earnings, McPeek has a strong stable of talented two-year-olds
aiming toward the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Several have already tasted success at
the graded stakes level, but at least one other promising prospect is still
flying under the radar.
Let's highlight four of
McPeek's best juveniles and analyze their Derby credentials:
Rattle N Roll
It's hard to single out the
most accomplished of McPeek's 2022 Kentucky Derby brigade, but if we judge
strictly by the highest caliber of racing class achieved, then Rattle N Roll—a proven
Grade 1 winner—is the stable star.
Rattle N Roll was beaten in
his first two starts, but there were extenuating circumstances, and he showed
significant improvement during the fall season in Kentucky. First, he trounced
a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs, sprinting the final
five-sixteenths of a mile in a quick :30.20 to win by three lengths. Then he
jumped up in class for the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, where he
exploded from behind a fast pace to dominate by 4 1/4 lengths.
Visually speaking, Rattle N
Roll looked terrific in the Breeders' Futurity. He subsequently missed the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) with a hoof issue, but this setback shouldn't stop
the promising chestnut from embarking on a productive Road to the Kentucky
Derby campaign. As a son of Cigar Mile H. (G1) winner Connect out of Breeders'
Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Johannesburg, Rattle N Roll has a pedigree with the blend
of miler speed and two-turn stamina that has proven so successful in recent
editions of the Derby. His future looks bright.
McPeek himself has stated he
doesn't typically crank his juveniles to win on debut, so when they show
promise right out of the gate, it's wise to sit up and pay attention.
Smile Happy is a perfect example.
The son of champion sprinter Runhappy won his debut at Keeneland in impressive
fashion, rallying boldly to smash a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight by 5 1/2
lengths. Then he stepped up in class for the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club
S. (G2) at Churchill Downs, where he again unleashed a powerful finish
(sprinting the final five-sixteenths in :30.69) to score by 3 1/4 lengths.
Two starts, two easy victories.
Clearly Smile Happy has a serious engine under his hood. And while handicappers
might be inclined to view Runhappy as a source of speed rather than classic
stamina, the bottom half of Smile Happy's pedigree is packed with stout
bloodlines, and mixing speed with stamina (rather than stamina with stamina) is
usually the best approach for breeding a Derby winner.
Rattle N Roll might have a
higher profile, but Smile Happy could well be the best of McPeek's Derby
Tiz the Bomb
It's easy to think of Tiz
the Bomb as a grass horse. After all, the son of Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
(G1) winner Hit It a Bomb was easily the most accomplished U.S. turf
two-year-old of 2021. After battling to victories in the Kentucky Downs
Juvenile Mile S. and Bourbon S. (G2), Tiz the Bomb unleashed a strong rally to
finish second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, beaten only by European
raider Modern Games.
But Tiz the Bomb might be more
than just a turf star. Remember his maiden win racing on dirt at Ellis Park?
Tiz the Bomb led all the way to smash his pursuers by 14 1/4 lengths, in the
process sprinting the final two furlongs in :12.39
and :12.59. Talk about a strong performance!
Tiz the Bomb missed a slated
start in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) with a leg issue, but the bay colt
figures to join the Road to the Kentucky Derby sometime this winter. His dam
sire is two-time Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Tiznow, so there's plenty of
dirt breeding in the bottom half of Tiz the Bomb's pedigree. Don't count this multi-surface
threat out of the mix.
Remember what we said about McPeek
taking a patient approach with first-time starters? If Smile Happy is any
indication of how a McPeek-trained debut winner can improve second-time out,
then I can't wait to see what the future holds for Dash Attack.
A son of successful
sprinter/miler Munnings out of a mare by Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun,
Dash Attack delivered a winning effort in his Dec. 5 debut at Oaklawn Park.
Racing one mile, the chestnut colt settled just off fractions of :23.46 and
:47.41 in fourth place, then shifted outside for the stretch drive and rallied steadily
to win by 1 1/4 lengths over a good and sealed track.
Dash Attack's final time of
1:38.27 wasn't anything to write home about, but he finished up nicely
(sprinting the final furlong in just under :12.79), and history suggests Dash
Attack will improve significantly off this effort. A productive winter campaign
may be in the offing.
Which of McPeek's juveniles
do you think has the best chance of winning the 2022 Kentucky Derby?
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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.