McPeek Settling into Hot Springs

Trainer Kenny McPeek is returning to his Arkansas roots - sort of. McPeek, who was born in Fort Chaffee, an Army National Guard installation in far western Arkansas, said he has purchased a home in the historic Trivista neighborhood just north of Oaklawn’s property.

“I’ve put my Florida home on the market and anticipate spending the next so many years racing and training at Oaklawn,” McPeek said. “I’m excited about it.”

McPeek, 52, said the move coincides with his commitment to make Oaklawn his primary winter base because of its exploding purse structure, which is being fueled by electronic skilled-based gaming and Oaklawn Anywhere, the track’s advance deposit wagering site. Oaklawn averaged a record $413,000 in daily purse distribution last year and officials are projecting a record purse distribution of $23.5 million – an average of approximately $435,000 daily – in 2015.

McPeek’s main division had been in Florida during the winter before he shifted his base to Oaklawn for the 2015 meeting. Following a 19-year absence, He returned to Oaklawn with a small string in 2012, and also had a division at the 2013 and 2014 meetings. He has approximately 25 horses this year at Oaklawn, with a smaller string at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas. McPeek’s return to Oaklawn was based, in part, because the trainer has horses for Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony.

The trainer said he plans to move into his new home Feb. 2. He said there are no plans to walk to work. “I’m going to get a golf cart,” McPeek said with a laugh.

Although he was born in Arkansas, McPeek was raised in Lexington, Ky., and graduated from the University of Kentucky in the mid-1980s. McPeek said his father was training at Fort Chaffee (Cuban Missile Crisis) as a member of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division when his wife traveled from Kentucky to visit him during the summer of 1962.

“She came down for the weekend from Lexington, and her quote would be, ‘The damn roads were so bad that her water broke by the time she got to Arkansas,’ and then she gave birth at Fort Chaffee that night,” McPeek said.

The trainer said both of his parents grew up in Lexington, adding “everyone in his family” are “Lexatonians.” “And so am I,” McPeek said. “But I just happened to be born in Arkansas. They tend to claim me here.”

McPeek has 1,422 victories since 1985, according to Equibase, with purse earnings of more than $64 million.

He spoiled War Emblem’s Triple Crown bid with Sarava in the 2002 Belmont and saddled the Anthony-owned Atigun to a third-place finish in the 2012 Belmont.

Claim Wars

Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope predicted earlier this month that claiming would be “very robust” during the 2015 meeting that began Jan. 15. So far, Pope is right.

Through only 10 days of racing, 80 claims have totaled $1,241,000, figures well ahead of the corresponding period last year.

“It’s not surprising at all, really,” said Brad Cox, normally one of the most active trainers at the Oaklawn claim box. “It’s just good money and people want horses. It’s as simple as that.”

Oaklawn’s minimum purse is $18,000, meaning $5,000 claimers – the track’s lowest level – earn $10,800 with a victory.

Oaklawn had 64 claims totaling $973,500 during the first 10 days of the 2014 meeting. Last year may have been the most active claiming meet in Oaklawn history, with 423 claims totaling $6,253,000 during the 53-day meeting.

Cox has already claimed four horses at the 2015 meeting and lost five through claims. Federico Villafranco, who trains for 2014 Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell, has claimed a meet-high nine horses, including multiple-stakes winner Stachys for $62,500 Sunday.

Steve Asmussen has claimed seven horses, including winning a five-way shake Thursday to claim first-race winner Copse for $10,000. Trainer Robertino Diodoro won 11- and eight-way shakes last week.

“It’s pretty hard to get a horse, because everyone you see, so do five others,” Cox said.
 
Finish Lines

Promising 3-year-old Super Saver filly Embellish the Lace will be sidelined approximately five weeks after undergoing surgery earlier this week to repair small fractures in both rear ankles, owner Alex Lieblong said. Embellish the Lace was scheduled to make her 2015 debut in a Jan. 15 entry-level allowance/optional claimer, but scratched after she was off the morning of the race, Lieblong said. … Pangburn, runner-up in last year’s $200,000 Pocahontas Stakes (G2), worked a half-mile in :48.20 Friday morning for her scheduled 3-year-old debut early next month. Trainer Kenny McPeek said the first major 2015 objective for Pangburn is the $150,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 7. … Owner Danny Caldwell said he hopes to run multiple stakes winner Stachys, a $62,500 claim Sunday, in the $100,000 Essex Handicap for older horses Feb. 14. Caldwell claimed Dreaming Blue for $62,500 last January at Oaklawn, then wheeled the gelding back in the Essex, where he finished fifth. ... Apprehender worked five furlongs in 1:01 Friday morning for trainer Chris Richard in preparation for the $100,000 King Cotton Stakes Feb. 7. Apprehender is the two-time defending King Cotton champion. …  Spring Included, runner-up in Saturday’s $100,000 American Beauty Stakes, will make her next start in the $100,000 Spring Fever Stakes Feb. 21, trainer Steve Hobby said.

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