01/23/2009 1:00AM

McPeek picks spots for Derby trail runners


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Ken McPeek has a problem any trainer would love to have at this early stage of the season, keeping his trio of talented 3-year-olds from running against one another while finding suitable spots for them to proceed along the Kentucky Derby trail.

McPeek finally sorted out those plans this week. The undefeated Danger to Society will remain here to compete next Saturday in the Holy Bull. Theregoesjojo will travel to Fair Grounds for the Risen Star on Feb. 7, while Free Country vans up the road to Tampa Bay Downs for the Sam F. Davis Stakes the following weekend.

"They are all Grade 3 races, which means they'll all be able to earn graded money, which is good if we are fortunate to move on to the next level," McPeek said Friday. "The hardest part was making travel arrangements to get Theregoesjojo to New Orleans, but I got those taken care of this morning."

Danger to Society and Free Country won split divisions of a first-level allowance race going 1 1/8 miles here Jan. 8, the second victory in as many starts for both colts. Theregoesjojo upset the highly regarded Quality Road by nearly three lengths to win an entry-level allowance dash going seven furlongs 48 hours later.

"I thought the Holy Bull was a nice spot for Danger to Society, because he's already won over the track at the distance and the timing is good for him," McPeek explained. "Theregoesjojo hasn't been beyond seven furlongs yet and needs to go two turns, and the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star is a good fit. I think the surface at Tampa Bay will be good for Free Country, and I'll likely ship him in early enough to get a work over the track."

McPeek said the plans are contingent upon how well all three horses work here Saturday.

McPeek also has a fourth 3-year-old he thinks could have Derby potential, More Than Willing, who will be favored to win Sunday's finale. More Than Willing, a son of More Than Ready, was beaten less than a length following a slow start and wide trip when launching his career last fall at Churchill Downs. He had the misfortune of running into the precocious first-time starter Checklist when second following another awkward start in his 3-year-old bow on opening day.

"I'm very high on him," McPeek said of More Than Willing, who will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles Sunday. "He's a talented horse who still has some things to prove and he'll have to jump through this hoop if he's going to have a chance to join the others on the Derby trail."

McPeek has gotten off to a quick start at the meet, having already won eight races to put him securely on top of the trainer standings. He believes he's got the numbers and firepower to hold the position throughout the meet.

"I'm real proud of the start we've had this winter," said McPeek who has 75 horses split between Gulfstream and Palm Meadows. "I've got a good group of horses and good people working for me, and everything is clicking nicely for us right now."

IEAH buys majority share of Patena

Trainer Rick Dutrow will pick up a Derby candidate of his own within the next few days, the regally bred Patena, who recently finished second behind Friesan Fire in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds. A deal to purchase Patena was finalized Friday, Iavarone said, with IEAH Stables buying a majority share of the horse. Patena had been trained by Josie Carroll.

"He's got a beautiful pedigree, he's by Seeking the Gold out of an A.P. Indy mare," said Michael Iavarone, IEAH's principal partner. "He's a very easy mover and a horse who figures to get better the further he goes."

Iavarone would not disclose the purchase price.

Patena has won 2 of 5 starts, including Woodbine's Display Stakes in his juvenile finale. He rallied to finish second while making his first start on dirt in the one-mile Lecomte.

"IEAH wants to win the Derby again, and they tell me he is a two-turn horse and that Robby Albarado really likes him, so I guess we'll just see how far he takes us," said Dutrow who won the 2008 Derby with IEAH's Big Brown.

Imperial Council nears 3-year-old debut

Imperial Council, trainer Shug McGaughey's top 3-year-old prospect, continues to move closer to his 2009 debut. The son of Empire Maker has not run since posting an impressive 2 1/4-length maiden win at Belmont Park on Oct. 4. Imperial Council finished a close second behind Hello Broadway in his only other start. He worked four furlongs in 50.60 seconds Thursday at Payson Park, his fifth work since arriving in south Florida earlier this winter.

"He got some shins, so I backed off on him," McGaughey said. "He also had some growing up to do. I'm really looking forward to getting him started. I plan to run him next month in a seven-furlong allowance race, and if all goes well then we'll have to start looking around for a stakes spot."

Jet Propulsion eyes Canadian Turf

Jet Propulsion and Mambo Meister will likely continue their budding rivalry in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf on Feb. 28.

Jet Propulsion led throughout and withstood a late surge from Mambo Meister to win a high-priced optional claimer on the grass here Wednesday. The victory avenged a setback at the hands of Mambo Meister two months earlier at Calder.

"He might be as good as he's ever been right now," said Dan Hurtak, who trains Jet Propulsion. "And the Canadian would be a logical spot."

Phil Gleaves said Friday he also is looking to bring Mambo Meister back in the Canadian.

"I thought he ran really well, even though he got beat the other day, and it makes sense to wheel back in the Canadian," Gleaves said.

* A. P. Cardinal, runner-up to Danger to Society in his 3-year-old debut, worked five furlongs in 1:01 at Palm Meadows on Friday, the fastest of 18 works on the tab at the training center that morning. A. P. Cardinal, who is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, is among the nominees for the Holy Bull.

- additional reporting by David Grening