Updated on 09/18/2011 1:39AM

'Bird' may become team's all-time best

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Birdbirdistheword will head onto the 2007 Triple Crown trail after winning the Delta Jackpot.

VINTON, La. - Birdbirdistheword's win in last Friday night's Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot represents a new chapter in the longtime relationship of owner Ray Cottrell Sr. and trainer Ken McPeek.

For many years, claiming horses were the hallmark of Cottrell's stable. Now, it is a promising 2-year-old that is accounting for the excitement. The $600,000 that Birdbirdistheword earned for winning the Jackpot should guarantee him a spot in the starting gate for next year's Kentucky Derby, which is McPeek's goal for him.

"We're not under any pressure now," said McPeek. "All I need is a couple of good races out of this horse, and I'll have him dead-right for the Kentucky Derby, as long as he doesn't get injured."

Birdbirdistheword arrived at Palm Meadows training center in Florida on Sunday, and his connections are just starting to determine the best route to get him to the Kentucky Derby.

"We're going to give him a bit of a rest to let him recover from everything, and make a plan," said McPeek. "If I had to say right now, more than likely the Louisiana Derby and the Blue Grass. More than likely he will not run any sooner than March. You might see him in the Florida Derby."

McPeek won the Florida Derby and Blue Grass with $3.6 million earner Harlan's Holiday in 2002, and the same year won the Louisiana Derby with Repent. He also trained Belmont Stakes winner Sarava.

Birdbirdistheword blew open the Jackpot with a sharp move from off the pace on the far turn. He then held off favored Pirates Deputy by a comfortable three-quarters of a length to earn his third win in his last four starts.

After winning his maiden on the turf at Arlington Park in August, McPeek shipped him to Louisiana Downs, where he won the $100,000 Harrah's Juvenile, also on the grass. He finished fourth to Great Hunter in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity on Keeneland's Polytrack in his start prior to the Delta Jackpot.

Birdbirdistheword, who has earned more than $700,000, was purchased for $32,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sale in August 2005. He is a son of Grade 2 winner Pure Prize, and the sire line was one reason McPeek liked Birdbirdistheword.

"I don't see how you could go wrong with him," he said of Pure Prize. "I bought three of them. He's by Storm Cat, and [his dam] Heavenly Prize is one of the great race fillies around."

McPeek quit training and dispersed his stable in April 2005 to become a bloodstock adviser. Birdbirdistheword is the first big horse McPeek has come up with since he reopened his stable last summer.

While he was working overseas, he took time to visit the training facilities of top horsemen in Australia, England, and Ireland. Upon his return home, McPeek purchased the former Pillar Stud in Lexington, Ky., and turned it into a European-style training center called Magdalena.

"I've taken a lot of what I've learned from going different places and tried to kind of put them in a pot, all the good ideas, and stir it up and this is what worked for me," said McPeek.

The farm's first success story is Birdbirdistheword, whom McPeek developed at Magdalena.

"He's a really, really good horse," said McPeek. "He's shown he's very versatile. He's run turf, dirt, Polytrack. He's a very efficient horse, and he's quick, too. But he also knows how to run, which is something we've concentrated on from the beginning with him, teaching him how to sit back and reserve himself."

McPeek, who began training in 1985, said there was a time when he and Cottrell would claim about 30 to 50 horses a year.

"I've been working for him for 20 years," said McPeek, 44. "When I was a kid trainer, he gave me a chance then. There were a couple of years I didn't work for him, but we didn't get too far apart. He's a guy that's supported me through thick and thin, and he's somewhat of a surrogate father for me."

The best horse McPeek and Cottrell have had together is Prince Arch, winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap. Birdbirdistheword could surpass him.

"I think he's a better horse than Repent at this stage," McPeek said, "and very well could be better than Harlan's Holiday."