06/02/2012 4:19PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: McPeek hopes lightning strikes twice

Barbara D. Livingston
Unstoppable U, unbeaten in two starts, is one of two longshots trainer Ken McPeek will send out in next Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Ten years ago, trainer Ken McPeek pulled off the biggest upset in Belmont Stakes history with the 70-1 Sarava. On Saturday, McPeek will try to do it all over again by taking on the heavily favored I’ll Have Another with his two outsiders, Atigun and Unstoppable U.

As will be the case here Saturday with I’ll Have Another, a Triple Crown was on the line in 2002, with War Emblem coming into the Belmont off victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. But Sarava, overlooked despite having posted a four-length victory on the Preakness undercard in the Sir Barton, shocked just about everybody but his trainer by outgaming Medaglia d’Oro by a half-length following a prolonged stretch drive.

[BELMONT STAKES: Video updates, expected field, early odds]

Atigun is the more experienced of the McPeek duo and comes into the Belmont off a 1 1/4-length victory against high-priced optional claiming horses at Churchill Downs. Unstoppable U is unbeaten and untested in his only two starts.

McPeek said he had thought the distance of the Belmont might give Sarava a chance.

“I like handicapping the old fashioned way, adding up the track variant and speed ratings in the Daily Racing Form,” McPeek said. “I was raised with the old numbers, and the old numbers said he was only three lengths off the Preakness with his effort in the Sir Barton earlier on the same card. I knew that we had another seven-sixteenths of a mile to make up those three lengths. I didn’t really think or know if Sarava was a mile and one-half horse, but the Belmont is one of those races where if you have a horse coming off a good race, you can’t be scared to take a chance because a lot of things can happen, more so than most any other race. In Sarava’s case the timing was right and he was coming off a good race. He didn’t beat a stellar field in the Sir Barton and nobody gave him much of a chance here, but like I said, a lot of weird things happen.”

McPeek believes Atigun and Unstoppable U are both better horses than Sarava.

“I think both these horses are bigger, stronger, and better than Sarava,” said McPeek. “They’re just not tested at a high level yet. Unstoppable U has the advantage of having been training here. He’s been over this surface the past seven or eight months. Atigun, I think pedigree-wise, suits the race and he’s also doing exceptionally well right now too. So I think there’s more to gain than lose by running either one of them.”

McPeek had planned to work both Atigun and Unstoppable U here Saturday but not surprisingly postponed both those breezes after heavy overnight rains left the track sloppy and sealed with the dogs out approximately nine feet after the renovation break.

“We can work Sunday or even Monday,” said McPeek. “We’re just going to do the basic stuff with both of them. We half-miled Sarava twice prior to his Belmont win and Atigun will go a half-mile for sure when he works. The other horse might go five furlongs.”

Unstoppable U was particularly impressive galloping over the wet track on Saturday, picking up the pace to complete three furlongs from the quarter pole out beyond the wire in 40.24 seconds.

“He’s a serious horse,” said McPeek. “He does that every day. I like to let them gallop off then come on strong down the stretch to get them used to finishing.”

I’ll Have Another had another routine morning, jogging alongside his regular partner Lava Man to the 5 1/2-furlong pole before galloping another mile. I’ll Have Another came down the stretch at a two-minute clip, which is a bit slower than usual for him, although he seemed to handle the sloppy surface well.

“We just did our normal routine with him,” said trainer Doug O’Neill. “The track took about an inch and a half of rain but they got a good seal on it after the last race yesterday and the horses were getting over it well this morning. It was a nice, safe track.”

I’ll Have Another’s only poor performance came over a sloppy track when he finished a distant sixth last fall in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Hopeful.

“He got into a lot of trouble and came out of the race with sore shins,” O’Neill said of the Hopeful. “He’s trained on a lot of sloppy tracks during the Triple Crown run and I don’t think it’s an issue.”

O’Neill also revealed Saturday that he does not plan on schooling I’ll Have Another at the gate prior to the Belmont.

“I think it’s like teasing a horse taking them up there to the gate,” said O’Neill. “I schooled him once before the Derby but not before the Preakness. He’s a good horse in the gate and if it’s okay with the starter, I won’t school him here either.”

0007 More than 1 year ago
can any one tell me why the trainer put 2 horses in the race when it cost so much,look at any race find horses at same race with 2horses same trainer and see the results if you see more then one trainer dump all out in race and see what you will end up,i have sat with trainer and told them what i do when i bet in race all i do look for trainer ONLY and put the one with long odds for 2nd and 3rd low odds 1st or 2nd try that in any race.........im doing this all my days of raceing the result are more then 85%. Good luck to all
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
You must have also thought that proper spelling, grammar and punctuation were just as simple at 0007 school.
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
I went through a 10,000 race sample and it came out to 11%. Nice try, genius.
Walt More than 1 year ago
11.000 dollar horse..winning the race...lol..not good for horseing....
James Turner More than 1 year ago
He's a $2,700,000 dollar horse ....thats how much he has won. Seattle Slew sold for $17,000 and he was pretty good for racing.
Jorge Maldonado More than 1 year ago
here is the finish of the BELMONT street life, illhave another, dullahan and atigun
Joe Drake More than 1 year ago
I owned and raced Sarava when he won the Belmont. Funny that McPeek would have the nerve to say his two allowance horses are "better" than Sarava. Maybe they are, but let them prove it on the race track by inning a Grade 1 and then compare all he wants. But that is Kenny being Kenny. Ever the shamless self promoter. As the guy who was calling the shots on Sarava's racing career, let me set the record straight on how that monumental upset went down. The person who deserves the credit for that 2002 Belmont win is exercise rider and assistant trainer Hanna Jorgenson. Kenny and head assistant Helen Pitts were totally focused on Take Charge Lady, Repent, and Harlan's Holiday that spring. Sarava toiled in obscurity under Hanna's care. Hanna was the person who believed in him and continued to tell me how special the horse was. Kenny wanted to run the horse in a NW1X instead of the Sir Barton. I had to push hard to get Sarava in that spot, If Take Charge Lady does't skip the Black Eyed Susan and give up her spot on the plane, none of that would have happened. After he drilled that group in the Sir Barton in a fast time, a reporter asked if we would run him in the Belmont. Kenny looked at me and I said let's do it if he comes out good. We shipped back to CD and Edgar Prado's (who rode in the Sir Barton) agent called and said they would ride him if we run him. I chuckle when I read stories about the size of "Team I'll Have Another" at Belmont. We sent Hanna with Sarava by herself to groom and exercise ride. Nobody else showed up there to help until Wednesday before the race. Bottom line, if you have the "Horse" the rest takes care of itself. We squeezed on Sarava hard that spring, running him 4 times in 8 weeks including the Belmont off of only 6 weeks training from a nasty quarter crack. He was dead fit and peaking when he got to the Belmont. I think IHA is coming up to the race similarly with respect to being dead fit and prepared for the mile and a half. Hope it all goes his way. That evening after the 2002 race in the tunnel at Belmont on the way back to the barn, I thanked Kenny for the special day and once in a lifetime accomplishment. He looked at me and said, " I am just getting started. I have a whole barn full of this kind." Ten years later he is still trying to find another one good enough to win a triple crown race. So perhaps instead of comparing Sarava to modest allowance horses to date, he should try staying "humble and hungry". I sent him the goods when I turned Sarava over to him that spring. Time for Kenny to learn that it's about the "Horse".
"Roy Hobbs" More than 1 year ago
Sarava was owned by GARY Drake.
Joe Drake More than 1 year ago
The comment was posted by facebook under my sons name.
R. Martin More than 1 year ago
Spoken like a typical Delusional Owner. Do not worry, Ken McPeek, those of us who have been in Racing for years know that Owners deserve the credit AND trainers and jockeys the blame.
David Filipos More than 1 year ago
Thanks for sharing your story, it IS about the horse. Too bad the other bloggers have to chime in about being veterans of the business. I was very happy for Sarava that day.
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
Hey Dave. I have a bridge for sale near Belmont. Cheap!
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Atigun is coming into the race with about the same speed figure as Sarava and has accomplished more and with much more graded stakes experience. Unstoppable U is unbeaten 2 for 2, winning a non restricted maiden special weight by almost 3 and passed his first allowance at first asking by over 6L at Belmont Park - it took Sarava 4 tries to break his maiden and another 4 tries to win his next race. Sarava ran into a below average Belmont Stakes field with a late developing Medaglia d'Oro who wasn't true 10f or 12f horse anyway, longshot Derby winner War Emblem who was also more of a 9f horse, Perfect Drift who was an admirable G1/G2 also-ran type, late closing Magic Weisner who was a Awesome Gem/Giant Oak type (but much better the Street Life type) plus other overrated horses like Proud Citizen and Sunday Break who combined to win 7 races in 30 starts. The year 2000 was ripe for a 70-1 Belmont Stakes shocker - as shocking as the fact that nothing happened on January 1st Y2K
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
I don't know you from the man on the moon, but you seem to be an A**. Boo Hoo. No body liked my horse. They concentrated ion others. Like only you knew you had a winner. But you kept him with a trainer you perceive as stupid. Really? Who is the stupid one here? Go back to betting $2 across on the chalk and dreamon about hitting the pick-6. geez. You didn't even get the name right.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
It was nice to hear that Unstoppable U and Atigun are doing well as they continue to train for the Belmont.
Kalar Walters More than 1 year ago
Unstoppable U not so much at this point. They're thinking of pulling him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't forget Union Rags...with terrible Derby start, he came on...well rested....
Tim More than 1 year ago
I don't think Union Rags has what it takes ..he seems to have leveled off and I am afraid he will struggle again ... Dullahan looked much better in the Derby after a great effort in the Blue Grass and with his breeding should be the horse to take on IHA in the stretch ... There will likely be 1 other horse that will come on in the stretch to challenge but most likely from the unknowns, ie, those that have not run yet in a Triple Crown event ... I personally like Atigun with his ties to a "Bird" horse ... they are always tough at long distances and so I would not be surprised to see him at the finish line with the other leaders... but I am absolutely convinced that unless he is pulled up, that IHA will finish 1st or 2nd and most likely 2nd...and if I had to guess. I would put Dullahan and IHA in a match race with Dullahan edging him with 1 1/2 furlong to run ..
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
This is fact: Distance Pedigree/Handicapping: 1) I'll Have Another 2) Five Sixteen 3) Paynter 4) (tied) Optimizer, Guyana Star Dweej, Unstoppable U 7) Atigun 8) (tied) Dullahan, Union Rags (see note8 below) 10) Ravelo's Boy 11) Street Life Note8: both Dullahan and Union Rags actually have Distance Tomlinson Figure similar to Street Life's but they were upgraded based on the fact that they kept running at the end of their 9f and 10f races.
R. Martin More than 1 year ago
McPeek learned, and learned well, from Sir Lukas, the Master. Lukas Credo: You Can't Win If You Are Not Competing! You Don't Always Win With The Best Horse---A FIDDLE IN THE MIDDLE--- let's say Commendable, can do it. You can't win if you are AFRAID TO BUCK THE CROWD! Lukas has known this all his life. That's how he became The Master. Mr. McPeek gets it, and he already matched Sir Lukas' Commendable with his own Sarava. Good luck to ALL COMPETITORS. I'll Have Another IS NO CINCH!
Andrew Ramirez More than 1 year ago
I'll have another will win the triple crown and the rest of the horses like Paynter, Dullahan, Union Rags, and Street Life will complete the rest of the finishers. I believe if the pace is a hot one that in the end a possible strong finish will be seen by Street life this horese has a very strong closing kick and must be respected in this race. I still feel though that first place will be IHA!!!
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Very strong closing kick gets the job done. For recent examples, see Blind Luck and Blame. Closing to 3rd in G2 races and 6th in G1 races is plodding past tired runners. Street Life will not hit the board. Betting both Atigun and Unstoppable U to show has 600% better chance hitting than betting Street Life to show with higher payout too. Chances of Street Life coming in 3rd or better: 3% with $7.00 payout for $2, about $350 for $100 basis Chances of either Unstoppable U or Atigun or both to come in 3rd or better: 20% with about $12 per $2 payout each, $300 - $600 range for $100 basis
Roy Sankar More than 1 year ago
dioncio More than 1 year ago
perdonen pero estos los quieros espresarlo en espanol senore i ll have anothe vas a ganal ma facir que secretaria no los orviden
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
dioncio, No lose si el ILL have another es mejor de Secretariat es mucho para decir eso pero claro que ILL have another es un Caballo bestante bueno!!!
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
!No.! Cookie is NOT better than Secretariat!
"Roy Hobbs" More than 1 year ago
Is this el Diario Carreras Forma? LOL
"Roy Hobbs" More than 1 year ago
Street Life by 32.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Street Life by a neck