01/06/2009 12:00AM

McPeek makes most of allowances

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - An Argentine restaurant named Las Brisas caters to a racetrack crowd on the oceanside boardwalk in nearby Hollywood, the most overt sign being the terrific memorabilia on the walls. Ken McPeek has taken notice of a photo from Gulfstream Park in 1999 that shows Lemon Drop Kid winning what appeared to be an everyday allowance race on a January afternoon.

Almost a decade has passed since Lemon Drop Kid used that race toward a campaign that included victories in the Belmont and Travers stakes for the late Scotty Schulhofer, and McPeek is one trainer keenly aware that when it comes to 3-year-olds, every single step is a critical one.

"Really nice horses have been using allowance races here at Gulfstream for a long time," McPeek said.

Thursday should be a particularly important day in terms of what McPeek can expect from his promising crop of 3-year-olds. Two allowances at 1 1/8 miles have been carded at Gulfstream, and McPeek trains 4 of the 17 entered between the two.

"This is just one step of the way," he said. "It's time to get them started, the first step in a long year. None of them are what I'd call 'overdone' for these races. We just want to see how they fit going a mile and an eighth against some of the better 3-year-olds around here."

In the sixth race Thursday, McPeek will watch Free Country break from post 1 with Kent Desormeaux aboard and Bounissimo break alongside from post 2 with Robby Albarado up. In the eighth, Albarado will ride Danger to Society from post 2, with Desormeaux riding Theregoesjojo from post 7.

It seems worth noting that Albarado will be traveling to and from his winter base at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Going so far out of his way speaks loudly to how these two races on Thursday carry considerably more value than first-level allowances with $42,000 purses. During the last year or so, McPeek began employing Albarado and Desormeaux as his first-call riders, and after Albarado guided Danger to Society to an impressive victory in the colt's lone start in a Nov. 19 maiden race at Churchill Downs, the trainer wanted Albarado back aboard.

Like Danger to Society, Free Country also won a November maiden race at Churchill in his only start. Theregoesjojo was an early starter, winning his May debut before finishing fourth in the Bashford Manor and going to the shelf. Bounissimo has been the least highly regarded of the Thursday foursome, with a Churchill maiden win at nearly 34-1 being the only good race of four on his past performances.

McPeek, whose 75-horse stable is split between Gulfstream and the Palm Meadows training center, also intends to run Tar Beach in a seven-furlong allowance Saturday at Gulfstream and yet one more 3-year-old colt, Sneakin Thru, in an allowance within the next few weeks. On the distaff side, McPeek has Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Dream Empress and Striking Dancer, who has been highly impressive on turf thus far, gearing up at Palm Meadows for future engagements.

"It's an exciting time of year," McPeek said.

A. P. Arrow joins McPeek's barn

McPeek reported that he has assumed the training of A. P. Arrow for owner Michael Paulson and that the 7-year-old horse is being pointed to the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Jan.o31 at Gulfstream.

A. P. Arrow, by A.P. Indy, is in training at Palm Meadows. A winner of 5 of 27 starts and more than $1.46 million, A. P. Arrow last won in November 2007 when taking the Clark Handicap at Churchill. He then was second by a half-length to Spring at Last in the Donn, his 2008 debut, and went off form when soundly beaten in five starts through the rest of the year.

A. P. Arrow was trained by D. Wayne Lukas for his first nine starts and more recently by Todd Pletcher.

Large fields expected for turf stakes

Twin 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for older horses are on tap for the coming weekend at Gulfstream. The Saturday feature is the $100,000 Fort Lauderdale Handicap, which drew 41 nominations and is expected to get a sizable field. Possible starters include Karelian, Mambo Meister, Museeb, and Silver Tree.

The filly and mare counterpart to the Fort Lauderdale, the $100,000 Marshua's River on Sunday, also is expected to net a big field from 42 nominations.