Photo: Chris 'Dark Horse' Sorenson
Always one to think big
when it comes to his horses, trainer Ken McPeek has two of Saratoga Race
Course's biggest races in his sights.
McPeek said Thursday
morning he is eyeing each of the track's top races for 3-year-olds, the
Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama for fillies on August 17 and the Grade 1, $1
million Travers on August 24.
For the Travers, McPeek is considering War Dancer,
a War Front colt who has made six of his seven career starts on grass,
including his most recent, a victory in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby on
July 13 at Colonial Downs.
McPeek said he is "leaning pretty heavily" toward the Alabama for Montana Native, a handy 3 ½-length winner of the $100,000 Broome Dance Stakes here on Wednesday.
"I'm not scared of
running. If they're doing good, I run them," McPeek said of his training
philosophy. "You can overtrain or run too much; everyone's got their
style. If they're doing well, I'll run."
War Dancer has made one
dirt start, running fourth in a Gulfstream Park maiden race on February 9
that was won by Saint Vigeur, who was second in the Grade 2 Peter Pan
and Grade 2 Dwyer. Peter Pan winner Freedom Child was third in that
Third in the Grade 2
American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs in May and second in the
$207,600 Centaur Stakes at Indiana Downs in mid-June, War Dancer rallied
to win the 1 ¼-mile Virginia Derby by a head over Charming Kitten at
odds of 7-1.
"We know he wants a mile
and a quarter. It's obviously his distance, but can he handle the
surface switch?" said McPeek, whose Golden Ticket was the co-winner of
the 2012 Travers in a dead-heat with Alpha. "I think he can. War Front
himself never ran once on the turf. We've got to defend our title with
"The other thing we're
looking at is, we do think the 3-year-old season is wide open, and the
stud value it would add to him would be dramatic. He would be one of the
top 3-year-olds if we could sneak our way into a Grade 1 dirt race."
Another option for War
Dancer would be the Grade 1 Secretariat on grass at Arlington Park, but
McPeek is pointing Blue Grass Stakes winner Java's War, now in Kentucky,
to that race.
"Why butt heads against
ourselves?" McPeek said. "We could easily get beat over there and wish
we had run here. [War Dancer] never worked on the turf once. He's worked
on the dirt every time. He works with all our best horses on the dirt.
It just so happens he ended up on the grass in a series of races."
In Montana Native,
McPeek said he has an improving filly who has won both her starts since
being freshened following her sixth-place finish in a six-furlong
allowance over the Polytrack on April 17 at Keeneland.
"She's a good filly.
From the beginning, she's done everything right," McPeek said. "We've
gotten into a little momentum with her lately. She got a bit of a break
for a period before her last start, and her last two have been bang-up.
If we can string together a third one, I'm leaning pretty heavily toward
running her in the Alabama. I would think even if you run third in a
race like that, it's pretty valuable in the long term."
McPeek isn't worried
about the 1 ¼-miles of the Alabama for Montana Native, a daughter of
multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter Yes It's True.
"I got a Speightstown to
go a mile and a quarter last year, and I got a Wild Again to go a mile
and a half in 2002," McPeek said of Golden Ticket and Sarava, the latter
having upset the Belmont Stakes at odds of 70-1. "She's a good mover.
"She's in a nice
routine," he added. "As you can see, she's bright-eyed and happy about
herself. She's easy at this stage. I think it's more just making sure
she stays in the feed tub and give her a nice little maintenance work
before she runs. She's ready, set, go. Golden Ticket was a similar deal.
We backed off of him. He ran on Derby day and he didn't run again until
the Travers, and he was stronger than ever."
Other horses McPeek is aiming to Saratoga stakes include Atigun for the $100,000 John's Call Presented by Sportech on July 31, and 2-year-old filly Charmed Hour for the Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack on August 11. Golden Ticket is under consideration for the grade 1, $750,000 Woodward August 31.