10/09/2017 2:00PM

Hovdey: McPeek struggles to keep loss in perspective


The day started out so fine. That morning, Daddys Lil Darling worked a smart half-mile on the Keeneland turf for Ken McPeek in preparation for the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup one week hence, in which she will be one of the favorites. A few hours later, McPeek won with the first of his five Keeneland runners that Saturday afternoon, when Kathballu took a seven-furlong allowance event worth $75,000.

But a day that figured to get only better turned out as bad as it could be. Ten City, the stable’s star 2-year-old, suffered a fatal injury to his left foreleg while surging to the lead at the top of the stretch in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, the ninth race on a 10-race card. The colt did not go down, and Corey Lanerie was able to retreat safely as the field surged around him. But those were small favors compared to the awful reality that confronted McPeek as he headed for the scene.

“By the time I got halfway down the track they already had him on the ambulance,” McPeek said Monday morning, still a little numb from the shock. “I got a call from the vet, telling me how bad it was. So I didn’t get a chance to be up close to him, but I don’t know that I wanted to be.”

Ten City, a son of Run Away and Hide, was a $12,000 bargain yearling who was beginning to make noise like an important horse. After winning a maiden race by seven lengths, he took the Bashford Manor and placed in two other stakes before going postward in the Breeders’ Futurity as third choice.

“He was a really big horse, like 1,180 pounds,” McPeek said. “Big barrel, big body, big everything, with long legs, and fast as the wind. Maybe it’s a bad combination, I don’t know, but that’s why I wanted to run him long.”

As saddened as he was by the death of Ten City, McPeek was equally in awe of the colt’s majority owner, Tommie M. Lewis.

“She owns a home in Houston that got severely flooded,” McPeek said. “She’s had a double mastectomy since then. Then the first good horse she ever had in her life breaks its leg. And there she was, buying into two more horses the night of the race.”

Among public trainers, McPeek has been aggressive in his outreach to both fans and prospective clients. His Magdalena Stable syndicate was part owner of Ten City. He also created the user-friendly Horse Races NOW iPhone app that covers all informational aspects of the game.

“I think people should be shared the game, the highest highs and the lowest lows,” McPeek said.

“Even now I want to know why it happened,” McPeek added. “I know it’s part of the game, but we need to make it as small a part as possible. Dr. [Mary] Scollay will be looking at him tomorrow, to see if there was anything that could have been picked up. But we had no notion. He’d never been injected. He had a little right shin we dealt with in the spring, but nothing in the left leg.”

Before Saturday, the low point of an otherwise successful season for the McPeek stable was the day last June when Daddys Lil Darling spooked and dumped her rider before the Epsom Oaks, ruining what promised to be an exciting British adventure.

“That could have turned out a lot worse,” McPeek said. “But compared to what happened last Saturday, that was only a blip.”

Cautious optimism for Unique Bella

When Unique Bella showed some minor irritation in a shin last March, after three stunning wins at seven, eight, and 8 1/2 furlongs, Jerry Hollendorfer said “Whoa!” The daughter of Tapit was on a fast track to the Kentucky Oaks and glories beyond, but that was too bad. Most questions have only one right answer.

A fracture line eventually was detected, surgery was performed to insert a single screw, and when the fracture was healed, the screw was removed. Then, when the screw hole had filled in and the bone was healthy again, Unique Bella was put back into training in hopes that there would be races left in the season befitting her station.

After a series of strong works and her victory on Sunday in the Grade 3 L.A. Woman Stakes at Santa Anita, it appears as if Unique Bella finally may get to take the national stage. The Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, at Del Mar on Nov. 4, has her name on it now. Her fans figure it’s her race to lose.

Not so fast, though, said Hollendorfer, after watching the filly carry Don Alberto’s colors to a 3 1/2-length win over a game but outclassed Princess Karen, winner of the Beverly Lewis Stakes at Los Alamitos.

“That was just right,” Hollendorfer said. “But she’s going to have to break better than that if she’s going to win a Breeders’ Cup race.”

True enough, Unique Bella was a step slow at the start of the 6 1/2 furlongs, and Mike Smith had to steer clear of heels before his filly settled into a steady rhythm on the outside. Once in the final straight, Unique Bella was able to unfurl her long, bounding strides, which could be the difference in the seven-furlong Breeders’ Cup challenge. The older fillies Skye Diamonds and Finley’sluckycharm will be waiting.