Trainer Kenny McPeek has his Eyes on Dubai

American trainer Kenny McPeek has long made a good living by winning big races and making intelligent ventures with racehorses. Led now by the aptly named Senior Investment, he is set to invade the Dubai World Cup Carnival with a trio of intriguing prospects, marking him as the first American trainer to come to the Carnival as early as January with the intention of campaigning throughout the two-month affair.

“We’re looking forward to it,” McPeek said. “Our horses are currently at Payson Park in Florida and they will ship together in early January.”

In the past, U.S.-based conditioners such as Kiaran McLaughlin (Frosted), Dale Romans (Keen Ice), Art Sherman (California Chrome) and Steve Asmussen (Curlin) have taken aim on the Dubai World Cup with runners they prepped over the local surface four-to-five weeks out (late February/early March). Then again, if it is new territory, one can bet that the innovative mind of McPeek has its destiny in manifest.

In 1995, McPeek nearly upset the apple cart by finishing a hard-charging second in the Kentucky Derby (G1) with longshot Tejano Run, who split two champions in the process (Thunder Gulch and Timber Country). In 2002, he won his first American classic when shocking the world with Sarava (70-1) in the Belmont Stakes. In 2004, he took Hard Buck across the world twice to finish second in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) at long odds. In 2005, he saw brilliance where others did not and picked eventual Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Curlin out of the Keeneland September yearling sale for a mere $57,000—a horse who would go on to earn $10.5 million and one of a slew of bargain buys who would land copious graded stakes for him and others.

In 2017, he—along with Linda Rice—became the first American trainers to have horses compete in South Korea when racing in the Korea Autumn Racing Carnival. And, of course, over the last few years he co-founded, developed and promoted one of the most popular smart phone applications in horseracing—Horse Races Now—which has helped effectively collate the way American racing fans acquire news and information. His sights are now set on the DWC Carnival and he brings three diverse prospects who appear thoughtfully, if not cleverly, selected.

Little Mike in Dubai

Training in Dubai

Senior Investment is a consistent Grade 3 winner who should benefit from the longer dirt races available at Meydan. Classic-placed when third in the 2017 Preakness Stakes (G1), the son of Discreetly Mine recently returned from a five-month layoff to finish third in a 1 1/16-mile conditioned allowance and then fifth in the Marathon (G2) over Breeders’ Cup weekend. He has a trio of victories from 19 starts, but has dodged no one in the process—competing in eight graded stakes (three G1).

Similar to Senior Investment is Harlan Strong, a son of McPeek-conditioned Harlan’s Holiday who has developed deliberately for the operation over 17 starts and two seasons. Bred in Argentina, he maintains a positive trajectory, especially in grass races at and beyond nine furlongs and possibly as far as two miles. Earlier this season, he was second in the Louisville Handicap (G3) behind banner-mate Vettori Kin.

“Senior Investment is difficult to handle in the U.S., condition-wise,” McPeek explained. “He’s run out of conditions to run in and I think the handicap racing there will suit him quite well. The nine-to-10 furlong races are what he should excel in and he’s a solid, sound horse.

“Harlan Strong is similar,” McPeek continued. “He’s at the stakes level where he’s out of allowance conditions and he should do well in the handicaps in Dubai, hopefully. We actually had another in a similar situation in (multiple G3 winner) Rated R Superstar, but he unfortunately was claimed last week (for $62,500 at Churchill Downs).”

Dark Horse Grecko

The last and arguably most enthralling of the triad is Argentina’s star juvenile of this past summer, Grecko, who boasts a flashy gray coat, immense amount of promise and appears a prime suspect for the road to the richest dirt derby in the world, the $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2) on Mar. 30. The son of Not For Sale—the sire of 2006 UAE Derby winner Asiatic Boy—romped in June’s Estrellas Juvenile (G1), covering a mile in 1:34.01.

“He’s a southern hemisphere 3-year-old and we bought him privately out of the Estrellas,” McPeek explained. “He has been with us for a few months now and I think that’s important. The difficulty of going to Dubai is high, but a horse who’s had time to acclimate better to our training has a better chance of doing well once we go there—and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

All three McPeek horses are fully or partially owned by Fern Circle Stables and are expected to be joined by assistant trainer Otto Draper, a former head trainer, jockey and exercise rider who has worked for the legendary likes of Charlie Whittingham and D. Wayne Lukas. Fern Circle’s principal is American billionaire businessman and philanthropist Paul Fireman, who led Reebok to becoming one of the most successful shoe companies in the world in the 1980s and 1990s before eventually selling it to Adidas. With 31 winners from 198 starts alone or in partnership—and playing at the higher end—Fern Circle has quickly made its red, white and blue silks known in stakes across North America.

“Mr. Fireman is a wonderful guy to work for,” McPeek concluded. “We’ve talked about it and decided to come. The other option is to give these horses the winter off. Even then, that can be a little problematic, so I think that it’s a good time to do this. He has given us the opportunity to go to Dubai and that’s great.”