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Belmont Stakes 2012: McPeek hopes lightning strikes twice
By Mike Welsch
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.
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.”
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
11.000 dollar horse..winning the race...lol..not good for horseing....
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".
It was nice to hear that Unstoppable U and Atigun are doing well as they continue to train for the Belmont.
Don't forget Union Rags...with terrible Derby start, he came on...well rested....
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!
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!!!
UNSTOPPABLE U BY 4 !!!
perdonen pero estos los quieros espresarlo en espanol senore i ll have anothe vas a ganal ma facir que secretaria no los orviden
Street Life by 32.
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