06/27/2005 11:00PM

Pitts takes over McPeek stable

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Cool Conductor (4), winning the Dixie last out, will run in the U.N. 'Cap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ken McPeek has saddled his last horse as a licensed trainer, at least for the near future. McPeek has officially turned over his entire stable to his former assistant Helen Pitts, who will be represented by her first starter, Cat Quatorze, on Friday at Churchill Downs.

McPeek, who announced his resignation from training in late April, said he will remain in "somewhat of an advisory role" for the 36-horse contingent that Pitts will oversee at Churchill. McPeek, who has trained for nearly 20 years, has begun working full-time as a bloodstock agent. Some of his horses have already been transferred to other trainers.

Pitts, 31, grew up in Maryland's horse country, just north of Baltimore. She is the daughter of Clinton P. Pitts Jr., who worked for some 25 years in Maryland as a racing official, including a lengthy term as chief steward, before working in New York, Hong Kong, and in a brief stint with Magna Entertainment Corp. Clinton Pitts now lives in Virginia.

Helen Pitts, who earned her first trainer's license at Colonial Downs in Virginia, has worked for McPeek for nearly five years and already had assumed many day-to-day responsibilities. "This is a heck of an opportunity, I'll say that," she said.

McPeek, who underwent sinus surgery Monday, has not ruled out a return to training, although he said he "would get as much satisfaction out of finding and buying a Derby winner as I would training one."

McPeek, 42, began his career in the fall of 1985, when he ran his first winner, Final Destroyer, at River Downs. He gradually built his stable into one of the largest and most successful in Kentucky, peaking in 2002, when his earnings exceeded $6.6 million. He ends this stage of his career with 5,333 starts, 773 wins, and more than $28.7 million in earnings.

Most of McPeek's best horses also were ones he advised clients to buy, including Tejano Run, Repent, Take Charge Lady, She's a Devil Due, and most recently, Wild Desert, winner of the Queen's Plate at Woodbine on Sunday.

"I've been so actively involved in the purchase of horses, I'm just hoping this next stage of my career is a continuation of what I've been doing anyway, and that's helping people in the horse business," he said.

McPeek said his first few months should be busy ones. "I'll be going to the sales at Fasig-Tipton in July, Saratoga and Ocala Breeders' in August, Keeneland in September, and probably a few other places," he said.

Cool Conductor to United Nations

Churchill-based Cool Conductor is skipping the Firecracker Handicap at his home track in favor of the Grade 1, $750,000 United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park on Saturday, said trainer Ralph Nicks.

The $250,000 Firecracker, a Grade 2 race at a mile on turf, will be run Monday. The race will mark the return of 2004 turf champion Kitten's Joy.

Nicks said he preferred several aspects of the 1 3/8-mile United Nations for Cool Conductor, who in his last start won the 1 1/8-mile Dixie Handicap on the May 21 Preakness undercard at Pimlico.

"It's a Grade 1 for $750,000, and the competition level should be about the same," said Nicks. "Plus, we didn't want to back him up to a mile. We really want to see how he can handle more ground."

With weights, the prospective field for the Firecracker is Kitten's Joy, 124 pounds; America Alive, 119; Senor Swinger, 118; Honor in War, 117; Old Forester, 115; Parker Run, 112; and "hopefully two or three more," said Churchill racing secretary Doug Bredar.

The Saturday stakes here is the $150,000 Locust Grove Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf. A field of eight to 10 is expected.