01/08/2009 12:00AM

McPeek pair still unbeaten after sweep

Email

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Dale Romans best described Thursday's eighth race, a first-level allowance event for 3-year-olds, as the promising field walked out of the paddock and headed toward the racetrack.

"This is a Grade 1 never-won-two," he said to his colleague Ken McPeek. "One of us will be happy and four of us will get fired."

McPeek is one guy who won't have to worry about job security for a while, not after sweeping both divisions of the nine-furlong allowance race with Free Country and Danger to Society, both of whom remained undefeated with their victories here Thursday.

Free Country, with Kent Desormeaux aboard, slipped through a narrow opening inside Atomic Rain to capture the opening split, which went as the sixth race on the card. A son of Big Country, he had rallied from far back to capture his only previous start, a six-furlong maiden special weight dash at Churchill Downs on Nov. 15.

Danger to Society stalked the pace of Idol Maker, then withstood a determined bid from the game A. P. Cardinal to capture the second division under Robby Albarado, who flew in from the Fair Grounds to ride Danger to Society, a son of Harlan's Holiday.

The winners turned in near-identical times. Free Country covered nine furlongs in 1:51.19, while Danger to Society raced the same distance in 1:51.16 over the fast track.

McPeek said he still sees plenty of room for improvement with Free Country.

"He's still green, but he's brave and he's smart and he'll run all day," said McPeek. "Both of these horses have a lot of ability and we'll just have to see how things go before determining what will be next. They could both end up in the Holy Bull."

The Grade 3 Holy Bull will be decided on Jan. 31.

Trainer Kelly Breen was also pleased with the performance of Atomic Rain, who was making his first start since finishing second behind the undefeated Old Fashioned in the Grade 2 Remsen nearly six weeks earlier.

"The plan wasn't to be on the front end, he's a lot better if he has something to run at, but he broke well and there wasn't a lot of speed in the field," said Breen.

"He's got his idiosyncrasies and he's still a little green. I'll probably put a set of blinkers on him next time to see if it will help him pay a little more attention."P

Pletcher makes other plans

Trainer Todd Pletcher was conspicuous by his absence in the entries for Saturday's Fort Lauderdale. Pletcher nominated three horses, Icy Atlantic, Z Humor and Alaazo, but opted to pass the race with all three. He said Icy Atlantic is being pointed for the Sunshine Million Turf on Jan. 24.

Pletcher will be well represented Sunday in the $100,000 Marshua's River when he sends out both Sea Chanter and Audacious Chloe in the filly-and-mare turf fixture.

Pletcher is also gearing up Harlem Rocker for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Jan. 31. Harlem Rocker lost an apparent Grade 1 win in his 2008 finale when he was disqualified from first and placed second behind Tale of Ekati in the Cigar Mile.

Pletcher said he is not concerned about stretching Harlem Rocker out to 1 1/8 miles for the Donn, even though his best races have been at a mile or shorter.

"He won the Prince of Wales at a mile and a sixteenth and ran well in the Travers after getting fanned out pretty wide," said Pletcher. "And I think this track should suit him well going a mile and one-eighth."

Pletcher is also looking forward to finding out just how good his recent maiden-winning 3-year-old Checklist might be. Checklist, a son of Gone West out of Yearly Report, was an impressive debut winner on opening day, drawing off to a four-length victory going six furlongs.

"I thought that was a pretty nice effort for the first time out," said Pletcher. "Especially the way he did it. I'll stretch him out and try him in an allowance next. I think he should handle more distance without any problem, since his dam won both the Black-Eyed Susan and Delaware Oaks."

As for Tale of Ekati, the two-time Grade 1 winner had his second official work since shipping locally for the winter, going four furlongs in 48.80 seconds here Thursday. Trainer Barclay Tagg said Tale of Ektai would likely make his 2009 debut in the Grade 2, seven-furlong Richter Scale on Feb. 14 as a possible prelude to a trip to Dubai and a start in the Godolphin Mile six weeks later.

Cool Gator returning in allowance

The last time Cool Gator started was in the Grade 1 Florida Derby here last March. A son of Macho Uno, Cool Gator returns Saturday under first-level allowance conditions against a solid field that also includes Discreet Treasure, Stevil, East End Tap, and the Brazilian-bred import Rock in Bage.

Cool Gator finished fifth behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby following a sharp second-place effort behind Nistle's Crunch in his 3-year-old debut. Cool Gator was trained by Danny Vella at the time but will run for trainer Joe Orseno on Saturday.

"He got injured last spring training for the Queen's Plate and needed some time," said Orseno. "When he came to me from the farm he was already fit to go three-quarters, and I've put the finishing touches on him here. He should be good to go a mile on Saturday, and hopefully this will be a prep for a shot in the Donn later this month."

* Jose Lezcano followed Eibar Coa's hat trick on Wednesday with a three-bagger of his own the following afternoon. Trainer Graham Motion, who is off to a fast start at the meet, saddled a pair of turf winners on Thursday: Broad River in the fifth race and Bold Abbott in the finale.