04/18/2013 3:03PM

Lexington Stakes: McPeek predicts victory for Pure Fun

Benoit & Associates
Pure Fun (No. 1), the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in December, drew the far-outside No. 11 post for the Coolmore Lexington Stakes.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Coolmore Lexington Stakes is known as a final stop on the road to Churchill Downs, although that’s meant in the context of the Kentucky Derby.

The maxim might well hold true again Saturday, when the Grade 3, $200,000 Lexington is run at Keeneland, but in this case, the 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race could prove a stepping-stone to the Kentucky Oaks and not the Derby.

Pure Fun, the only filly among 11 3-year-olds in the field, is using the Lexington as her final prep for the May 3 Oaks at Churchill. If she wins – and she is the morning-line favorite to do so, albeit at a lukewarm 7-2 – Pure Fun will dash whatever Derby hopes exist among the connections of the Lexington’s male runners.

“I do think we’ll win,” said Ken McPeek, trainer of Pure Fun. “She really needed her last race,” a third-place finish as the odds-on favorite four weeks ago in the Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park. “And she really needs this race if we want to be a threat in the Kentucky Oaks. I know this is a bit unconventional, but she’s doing great, and we’re really looking forward to trying this.”

The Lexington winner gets 20 points in the new qualifying system for the May 4 Derby, and a win by Pure Fun would take those points out of play. Regardless of what happens, the impact of this race on the 139th Derby should prove minimal, mostly because the core of Derby favorites already is in place, and the connections of several other Lexington contenders are saying they probably won’t run back in the Derby in two weeks anyway.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Five other horses are scrunched between 4-1 and 6-1 on the Lexington morning line, and none of those is a major Derby hopeful. The connections of Winning Cause (post 1, 5-1), Examen (post 7, 5-1), and Cerro (post 8, 5-1) have said they definitely will not or are highly unlikely to run in the Derby, while Pick of the Litter (post 2, 6-1) isn’t even nominated to the Triple Crown, and the new trainer of Sunbean (post 6, 4-1) was noncommittal when asked whether the Louisiana-bred colt would run back in the Derby in case of victory.

Mike Maker, who took over Sunbean’s training less than two weeks ago, called the horse “an easy keeper” and said the colt “has been pretty impressive in the little time I’ve gotten to know him” at the Trackside training center in Louisville, Ky. In any case, after finishing eighth at 18-1 in the Louisiana Derby three weeks ago, even a huge turnaround in the Lexington probably wouldn’t be enough to make Sunbean a major consideration when prerace speculation for the Derby begins in earnest.

“We’ll play it by ear,” Maker said.

McPeek, who won the Blue Grass Stakes last Saturday with Java’s War, is bidding to replicate what Todd Pletcher has done twice in recent years – sweep the Blue Grass and Lexington. Pletcher, who pulled that feat in 2005 and 2008, will try to prevent McPeek from doing so as the trainer of Winning Cause.

This is the 32nd running of the Lexington, which will be televised live by TVG, with post time set for 5:13 p.m. Eastern. Fans are reminded that all 1 1/16-mile Polytrack races at Keeneland begin and end at what otherwise is the sixteenth pole.

After a run of warm weather in this area, a cold front was supposed to move in this weekend. The Saturday forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and a high of just 58.

After the Lexington, only the Derby Trial remains as a points race for the Derby. That one-turn, one-mile race is set for next Saturday, April 27, the opening night of the Churchill spring meet.

In other Derby news:

◗ If Falling Sky starts as a longshot in the Derby, Luis Saez would ride, according to Nick Sallusto, who serves as the racing manager for James Covello and Newtown Anner Stud, which owns the son of Lion Heart. It would be the first Derby mount for Saez, who recently moved his tack to New York after several outstanding years in southern Florida.

◗ Trainer Bob Baffert said Thursday that his lone remaining Derby hopeful, Govenor Charlie, was cleared to leave the Rood and Riddle equine hospital for a hind-foot issue, and the colt was scheduled to be back at Churchill later in the day.

Itsmyluckyday, the Florida Derby runner-up, had a serious blowout Thursday when going a mile in a swift 1:43.20 at Calder.

– additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch