Ain’t it great when a good plan comes together. It’s especially satisfying when the formulation happens to be one few others could figure.
Kenny McPeek is one of those recognizable figures in the Thoroughbred racing game. Having enjoyed much success during a decorated training career that began in 1985, this Arkansas native has won over 1800 races. The thing about this University of Kentucky graduate is he is not just a Thoroughbred conditioner. McPeek is actually an architect that builds race horses.
Those looking for evidence as to his ability to blueprint success need to glance no farther than a furiously fast three-year-old colt that has recently come under his care. Classic Causeway has made two starts while in his barn with the second making McPeek look like Frank Lloyd Wright.
The first start out of the McPeek barn came on June 25 in the Ohio Derby. Leading the race after three-quarters of a mile, Classic Causeway was overtaken in the stretch and finished third. Recognizing the talent he had before him, the wheels began to turn and the crafty Kentucky-based conditioner came up with an unconventional plan.
“We went to dinner with the owners after the Ohio Derby and I told them we should think about running him on grass”, says McPeek. “His pedigree says he should like the turf and his talent level to be really good is there as well. We just need to grow him mentally and put him in the right spot.”
Believing in the process, the Classic Causeway people gave McPeek the green light and the ciphering began. Using his team, Kenny cunningly worked his way into the starting gates for the July 9 Belmont Derby in New York. Yes, it was just two weeks after his run at Thistledown, but the stars were aligning.
“Classic Causeway was eating the bottom out of his feedbag after the Ohio run and he had tremendous energy”, observes McPeek. “Sometimes it is better to race a horse than work a horse to build them mentally and physically. We felt like he was in a good spot and thankfully we were able to get into the Belmont starting gates.”
It was indeed very fortuitous for the entire Causeway team. Few gave him a real chance in this grade 1 run over the Empire state grass. Having never run on the turf, how could he compete with eleven other accomplished three-year-olds? And then the gates opened and everyone saw a structural masterpiece.
Bolting to the lead under jockey Julien Leparoux, Classic Causeway immediately began a ground-saving trip. Settling into a great rhythm down the backstretch, this grandson of Thunder Gulch turned for home still full of run. Rolling home at odds of 26 to 1, the unfathomable was fathomed. Covering the mile and a quarter in a swift 1:59.99, McPeek’s masterpiece had been constructed.
“I give a lot of credit to our entire team and of course to Classic Causeway”, says McPeek. “He relaxed on the lead which is very important for a speed horse like him. I always thought he had a lot of talent, he just needs to figure some things out. This was a huge stride for him mentally. It is very rewarding to be a part of something like this, but what’s really crazy is the fact I get paid for doing something this fun. Hats off to the owners for believing in me and their horse.”
The Belmont Derby win was his first grade 1 win and fourth overall in nine career starts. His career earnings now tops the one million dollar mark with the grade 1 Saratoga Derby on turf as the next target.