01/26/2007 1:00AM

McPeek glad to be 'back in the thick of it'


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Last winter, Ken McPeek was off somewhere in Brazil, Argentina, or perhaps even Australia attending horse sales and generally just getting away from the grueling daily routine of training racehorses for a living. But after taking nearly a one-year sabbatical from the business, McPeek returned to his first love last April and now finds himself ready for another run along the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown trails.

McPeek has two top 3-year-olds stabled at Palm Meadows: recent allowance winner Bold Start and Grade 3 stakes winner Birdbirdistheword. Bold Start is expected to make his next start on Saturday against leading Kentucky Derby hopeful Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes.

"I'm glad just to be back in the thick of it again after being away for nearly a year," said McPeek, who at one point during his self-imposed hiatus compared himself to an old horse who just needed a little turn-out time.

McPeek, who turned most of his stable over to former assistant Helen Pitts in July 2005, has had three Kentucky Derby starters, including Tejano Run, who finished second in 1995. The highlight of his career came seven years later when he upset the 2002 Belmont Stakes with Sarava.

Bold Start was an impressive winner over the highly regarded Meritocracy under entry-level allowance conditions in his 3-year-old debut on Jan. 13, overcoming a rough trip to register a one-length victory and earn a career-best 92 Beyer Speed Figure. The win was the second in six starts for Bold Start, a son of Jump Start who was also third in the Cradle Stakes at River Downs and sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity after engaging for the lead entering the stretch.

"He's finally figuring out what he's supposed to do," McPeek said of Bold Start. "He's always worked, acted, and had the presence of a good horse, and we worked at it a long time before he got it right. Kent [Desormeaux] was a big part of it. He rode a great race and helped teach him a few things the other day."

Birdbirdistheword has not started or even worked since rallying to a three-quarter-length decision over Pirates Deputy in the Delta Jackpot on Dec. 1. He finished five lengths in front of Bold Start when fourth in the Breeders' Futurity in his previous try.

"He shipped and ran all fall, so I just turned him out for a month and gave him some time to recuperate," said McPeek. "He's about ready for his first work, and I'll look for something with him in early March, with the Louisiana Derby perhaps my first impression but certainly not a race set in stone."

Nobiz Like Shobiz drills for Holy Bull

Nobiz Like Shobiz showed he's fit and ready for his return after working six furlongs in 1:11.80 under jockey Cornelio Velasquez here Thursday. It was his final major prep before his much anticipated 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull.

"He worked nicely and is exactly where I wanted him to be at this point," said trainer Barclay Tagg. "I'll probably give him a little easy breeze on Wednesday and we're ready to go."

Nobiz Like Shobiz has not started since winning the Remsen by 6 1/2 lengths on Nov. 25.

"Hopefully he'll be able to get an easy win the first time back," said Tagg, "one that won't take too much out of him. If they have a hard race the first time, it's difficult to tell just how hard it was and when they're going to be over it."

Tagg also noted that Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide has returned to training and could make an appearance here before the end of the meet.

Kaplan has high hopes for 3-year-olds

Trainer Bill Kaplan has only 10 horses stabled in his barn at Calder, but three of them are 3-year-olds good enough to still be considered on the Derby trail.

Kaplan's trio of 3-year-olds includes Imawildandcrazyguy, a two-time stakes-placed gelding who won his 2-year-old finale by 10 lengths at Calder; Drums of Thunder, who has won his last two starts, including Calder's What a Pleasure by nine lengths; and Storm in May, a contender in Saturday's Sunshine Millions Dash but whose forte may be grass.

Kaplan has had his hands on some good young horses in the past, including Mr. Livingston, a multiple stakes winner, and Seacliff, who swept all three legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes in 1995.

"It's great to have just one top 3-year-old," said Kaplan. "To have three at the same time is unbelievable."

Kaplan plans to run Drums of Thunder and Imawildandcrazyguy on Saturday's Donn Handicap undercard. Drums of Thunder, who has won 4 of 8 career starts, will make his graded stakes debut in the Holy Bull. Imawildandcrazyguy is pointing for a second-level allowance race if it fills.

"Drums of Thunder and Imawildandcrazyguy are two completely different types of horses," said Kaplan. "Drums of Thunder is like a Ferrari. He's very fast, very athletic, and very agile. Imawildandcrazyguy is more like a freight train. He's strong and just keeps coming at you."

Kaplan's good fortune is also split among three different owners. Herb and Ione Elkins, his main clients for many years, own Drums of Thunder. Michael Eigner and Lewis Pell own Imawildandcrazyguy, while Kaplan owns a small portion of Storm in May along with the colt's principal owners, Teresa and David Palmer.

* Dreaming of Anna, who won the Eclipse Award as the nation's top 2-year-old filly in 2006, worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 over the main track at Palm Meadows on Friday. Trainer Wayne Catalano has yet to commit to any specific race for her 3-year-old debut.

* Stormy Kiss, winner of the Grade 2 Honorable Miss, worked a half-mile in 46.20 seconds here Friday for trainer Barclay Tagg. The move was easily the fastest of 11 on the morning's tab.