Updated on 09/16/2011 7:15AM

I recall Secretariat - and even Pokealong


Each day through the Kentucky Derby, trainer Ken McPeek will share his thoughts with Marty McGee of Daily Racing Form in his Derby Diary. McPeek, 39, is the trainer of Harlan's Holiday, the race favorite.

I was born in Fort Chaffee, Ark., but only because my dad, Ron, was stationed there with the military during the Cuban missile crisis. His people were all from Lexington, and that's where I grew up.

For about as long as I can remember, horses have been a part of my life. There's still a picture somewhere of me sitting on a horse in the paddock at Keeneland. I was 5 years old. My dad's mother used to have the pony guy bring his horses over to her house for all of us to ride. The pony guy would get mad at me because I'd ride them until they were worn out.

The first time I remember going to the races was at Keeneland. I was maybe 7. I remember tugging on my dad's coat and saying, "Bet the gray one, bet the gray one," because my middle name is Grey. It was a horse named Miss Pokealong. Of course it won and paid over $100, and I was hooked.

The first Derby I can remember was Secretariat's in 1973. I don't remember Riva Ridge in 1972. The first Derby I went to was Pleasant Colony's in 1981. I sat in the box right next to the winning owner, Thomas Evans of Buckland Farm. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. I was only there because C.V. Collins invited me to sit in his clubhouse box. Funny, because C.V. was one of my first clients, and I've still got horses for him today.

When I was in high school, I'd read The Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Record cover to cover. Then my dad would read them. My dad, who was in the construction business and still lives near Lexington, kind of dabbled in horses, owning a little piece of a horse here and there. He probably had the most influence on me in my early years. He would do research on horses, and I'd be right there with him.

I was so interested in pedigrees that I still remember that seven or eight of the champions in 1980 traced back to Mahmoud - Genuine Risk, Spectacular Bid, Christmas Past, a few others. When I was going for my business degree at the University of Kentucky, I'd go to the agricultural library to study, but I'd end up going through all the old Thoroughbred Records. Every one ever printed was in that library. I looked up the one where Mahmoud - he won the Epsom Derby - was brought over to this country. It was great stuff. I'd be in the library to study my schoolwork, but my accounting book would never get opened.