Kenny McPeek has a fair track record at upsetting the odds and insists he is not in Britain just for fun ahead of Daddys Lil Darling becoming the first horse trained in America to run in the Investec Oaks at Epsom on Friday.
McPeek is no stranger to Britain shores, having saddled the Brazilian-bred Hard Buck to outrun his odds of 33-1 by finishing second to Doyen in the 2004 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
He was in the money again in Berkshire in 2010 when Tiz My Time finished third to Memory in the 2010 Albany Stakes at 16-1 and Zaidan filled the same spot in the Chesham at 9-1.
Daddys Lil Darling finished runner-up to Abel Tasman in the American Oaks at Churchill Downs a month ago, and with little to no collateral formlines McPeek is happy to rely on the strength of his filly’s ability and his training methods to see her through. In a deep renewal, she is freely available at 40-1 but McPeek is certain she will be competitive.
“We didn’t come for the Pimms and the parties, we actually have come to win,” he told Racing UK.
“She is a beautiful filly and has a great hind leg on her and is extremely strong right now. She is dappling, so physically we have her where we want her. We are doing all the preparations and really it is a question of whether she is good enough.”
The hulking American trainer has amassed more than 1,500 winners from just over 10,000 runners since he started out in 1985.
He has trained nine individual Grade One winners and has raced and bought horses in South America. He last operated on the world stage when he saddled Vettori Kin to finish tenth in the UAE Derby at Meydan in March.
He will need all of his experience, because on paper Daddys Lil Darling has it all to do. She is by the sprinter Scat Daddy, a sire who has produced speedballs such as Lady Aurelia and Caravaggio. Miss Hot Salsa, her dam, has produced Mongolian Saturday, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner.
The only time in nine starts that she has encountered turf she was comprehensively beaten in the Grade Three Florida Oaks over an extended mile, although she did finish behind subsequent dual winner and Coronation Stakes hopeful La Coronel. American racecourses are basically all flat and left-handed, too, but the 54-year-old from Arkansas knocks all of these doubts out of the park as if he is hitting a home run.
In 2006 McPeek bought the historic Pillar Stud in Lexington where 1959 Kentucky Derby winner Tomy Lee is buried. A crucial element to Daddys Lil Darling preparation has been that she has worked on his sweeping, European-style turf course that is left-handed, and more crucially, undulating.
McPeek first walked Epsom when he came over in 2003, when planning Hard Buck’s mission, and has been lodged in the town since both trainer and filly arrived, slightly delayed, last week.
“Every filly in the race will have to deal with the same thing,” he said. “That first hill, when you rise up – that could wilt a really good horse. Which filly can handle it and which horse has the stamina to keep going? I think my filly has that kind of talent.
“We gallop her on my turf course and we have been able to give her the uphill/downhill experience. We have a corner that is very similar to Tattenham corner and we think we have prepared her to handle it.
“It is 1.9 miles. Is it Epsom? No. But it is pretty steep and she handles it like breaking sticks.
“She has been over it all her life. It will be interesting to see whether she can get a piece of it or even all of it.”
Daddys Lil Darling worked under big-race rider Olivier Peslier at Epsom last week. Peslier has won the Derby aboard High Rise in 1998 and has one third-place aboard Crown Of Light to show for his four rides in the fillies’ Classic.
French rider Julien Leparoux partnered Daddys Lil Darling ridden in the Florida Oaks, and his compatriot feels that his mount has all the right physical and mental attributes to run well.
“When we cantered we started just before the mile start as I wanted her to see the road crossings,” Peslier said. “She jumped a bit at the first one but she was fine after that.
“I’d say she looked around a bit coming around Tattenham Corner but she was working on her own so that is expected. We did all the work on the bridle because she had just flown in from America. I do not think she will have a problem with Epsom.
"As for getting the distance I think she will be fine with that, too. Honestly, some of the fillies I have ridden in America they get excited and pull. She is not like that. She was not keen and I am happy with her mental attitude.”
If becoming the first US-trained winner is not enough, McPeek is bidding for an audacious trans-Atlantic Classic double.
Next week he will saddle Senior Investment, the Preakness Stakes third, in the Belmont Stakes, a race in which he caused a huge upset 15 years ago with the 70-1 Sarava.
Senior Investment came from 13 lengths off the pace to secure his podium finish in the second race of the US Triple Crown series.
“This horse is a really nice,” he said. “He is a deep closer, so pace is a tricky issue with him. If he could get a little bit of pace in the Belmont I think he can win. This is a really nice horse and he is improving. Let’s mark down that double.”
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