Trainer McPeek seeks to spoil another Triple try
NEW YORK—Ken McPeek wants to spoil another Triple Crown try.
He did it 10 years ago, when 70-1 Sarava charged to victory in the Belmont Stakes as War Emblem was attempting to complete a rare sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
"It was a fun day," he said. "I'd like to do it again."
Sarava defeated Medaglia d'Oro by a half-length, with War Emblem finishing a troubled eighth -- beaten by 19 1/2 lengths -- after nearly falling to his knees coming out of the starting gate.
The 49-year-old trainer could take two shots at knocking off Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another in Saturday's 1 1/2-mile race. McPeek was expected to enter Atigun and possibly Unstoppable U on Wednesday, when post positions will be set.
"We have a couple of nice 3-year-olds that haven't proven themselves at a high level yet, but weird things happen," he said. "A lot can happen. It's a funny racetrack, too."
Atigun was purchased for $42,000 -- just $7,000 more than what I'll Have Another cost. He won a lesser race on the Kentucky Derby undercard in his last start. Before that, he was 11th in the Rebel Stakes and fifth in the Arkansas Derby, where Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister romped to an easy victory.
Atigun is owned by John Ed Anthony, who won the 1980 Belmont with 50-1 shot Temperence Hill. Atigun has three wins in nine career starts and earnings of $135,253.
Unstoppable U is 2-0 in his young career. McPeek said he's an unseasoned colt who sometimes is reluctant to change leads when he's running.
"If he's going to have a chance to win a race like this, he has to hit everything just right," he said.
Both figure to be listed at double-digit odds.
"I wish we were a little bit shorter price," he said.
I'll Have Another is likely to face 11 rivals in his attempt to win the Triple Crown for the first time since 1978. His jockey, Mario Gutierrez, has no prior experience riding at the track, which is a half-mile longer than most tracks in North America.
"I think it's probably a disadvantage to have a rider that doesn't know it," McPeek said. "That's tricky, a lot of pressure on him. A lot can happen."
Of course, history could be made, too.
"Just the fact that there's a shot at it is positive for everybody," he said.
McPeek had no regrets after Sarava shocked the crowd and delighted the bettors at the 2002 Belmont.
"I had a job to do," he said, recalling how he later lost the colt when it was transferred to a different trainer.
He hasn't had a Belmont starter since Sarava.
"I think I've been overdue," he said. "It's a funny game."
McPeek would love to have the last laugh this year.