The terrible twos? Not for trainer Kenny McPeek Saturday at Oaklawn.
McPeek equaled a career high with four victories on the 10-race card – the first in Oaklawn history exclusively for 2-year-olds – highlighted by a sweep of the Renaissance Stakes at six furlongs and the Year’s End Stakes for fillies at one mile.
The all-2-year-old format, the brainchild of Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope and patterned after Churchill Downs’ popular “Stars of Tomorrow” programs, offered purses totaling nearly $1 million.
“We’ve got a lot of good young horses,” McPeek said during a phone call moments after the Year’s End. “Got a lot of good clients that let us do that. When I was young, I had nothing but claimers up there (Oaklawn). At this stage, it’s a real luxury to have the kind of horses that we’re handling. For it all to come together there in one day, just a whole lot of fun to watch.”
McPeek won the fourth race, a $90,000 maiden special weight at one mile, with favored Sun Thunder ($4.20), Renaissance with Frosted Departure ($21.20), eighth race, a $90,000 maiden special weight for fillies at six furlongs, with Dear Lady ($11) and the Year’s End with favored Defining Purpose ($6).
Fittingly, all four of McPeek’s winners ran Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs, the second “Stars of Tomorrow” program during its 19-day fall meeting. McPeek also finished fifth in Saturday’s second race, a $90,000 maiden special weight for fillies at one mile, with favored Kid’s Last Laugh and sixth in the 10th race with Interlock Empire, a first-time starter. The nightcap was a $90,000 maiden special weight at six furlongs.
“Honestly, I haven’t had a great month, until today,” McPeek said. “We’ve actually had kind of a modest month, but I don’t typically run a lot during the winter anyway, early December. I just really like this December meet that Pat’s put together, too.”
Before eliminating the category in 1975, Oaklawn had run more than 1,000 races for 2-year-olds since opening in 1905. Oaklawn has been able to again card 2-year-old races after shifting its opening, which had traditionally been in January or February, to December in 2021. Oaklawn had never run more than four 2-year-old races on a program since the calendar shift for the 2021-2022 meeting. There were three stakes for 2-year-olds this season after the addition of the Renaissance and Year’s End for the 2022-2023 meeting that began Dec. 9. The $150,000 Advent for sprinters marked Oaklawn’s first stakes race for 2-year-olds since 1973 when it debuted at the 2021-2022 meeting. Pope, obviously, moved the needle Saturday.
“These are great spots,” McPeek said. “Pat’s done a good job with the program there. Get some route horses in spots, some sprinters a spot. It’s great.”
McPeek said he already has next-race plans for three of his four winners. Defining Purpose, a dominant 5 ¼-length winner, will be pointed to the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Jan. 28 at Oaklawn. The 1 1/16-mile Martha Washington is Oaklawn’s first of three Kentucky Oaks points races.
Sun Thunder, a 6 ½-length winner of his two-turn debut, is headed to the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Jan. 28 at Oaklawn. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest is Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races. McPeek had two entrants (Ten Days Later and Denington) for its first, Sunday’s $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile. Sun Thunder, a $400,000 purchase in 2020, is by super sire Into Mischief. He finished third in his Nov. 26 career debut at Churchill Downs.
Dear Lady probably goes next in a two-turn entry-level allowance spot, McPeek said, while plans are pending for Frosted Departure, who was making his ninth career start in the Renaissance. McPeek said he does plan to keep Frosted Departure sprinting.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment,” McPeek said. “We’re not going to worry about that until later.”
McPeek’s wife, Sherri, co-owns Dear Lady, Defining Purpose, and Frosted Departure. Dear Lady represented Kenny McPeek’s 1,900th career North American victory, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. The trainer only had to wait about 30 minutes for No. 1,901.
“We’ve always felt she was a really good filly and that filly is going to need to stretch out in her next run as well,” McPeek said, referring to Dear Lady. “I think we’re in a great position with these young fillies.”
McPeek previously had won four races on a card twice – Oct. 26, 2008, at Churchill Downs and Nov. 27, 2021, at Churchill Downs. McPeek recorded his first career victory Oct. 27, 1985, at River Downs. Saturday’s four-bagger pushed McPeek’s career Oaklawn total to 65, the first coming Feb. 19, 1992. His biggest victory to date at Oaklawn came with future Eclipse Award winner Swiss Skydiver in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies in 2020. He also won the 2022 Smarty Jones with Dash Attack.
McPeek needed to just one day to match his victory total from the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, when he had a string of horses in Hot Springs for the first time since 2018.
“It was a great day,” McPeek said.
In McPeek’s absence, assistant trainer Ray Bryner saddled Saturday’s winners. Bryner oversees McPeek’s Oaklawn division. McPeek has 25 stalls for the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting.
David Cabrera rode Sun Thunder, Dear Lady and Defining Purpose. Francisco Arrieta rode Frosted Departure. Cabrera and Arrieta each rode 62 winners to share the 2021-2022 Oaklawn riding title.
Purses Saturday totaled $995,000. In addition to the Renaissance and Year’s End, there was a $104,000 entry-level allowance/optional claimer for female sprinters and six maiden special weight events, each worth $90,000. The program attracted 113 entrants.