South American Stars Should Shine for McPeek on Saturday
Trainer Ken McPeek appears poised for a strong stakes weekend with two former South American horses set to start in Saturday's featured grass races, the $100,000 Canadian Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) for males and the $100,000 Suwanee River Handicap (gr. IIIT) for females.
Hard Buck has won his last three races, all since arriving in the U.S. for McPeek and owners Team Victory II. His win in the grade III River City Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 16 sends him into the Canadian Turf as the topweight at 119 pounds.
New Dreams will make her first start in the U.S. if she goes to post in the Suwanee River after winning a group I race in Brazil last May the last time she raced.
While many Southern Hemisphere stars have traditionally arrived in California, McPeek's success with Hard Buck is a sign that eastern-based trainers could start to crash the party.
"We've been seeing it for some time now," said McPeek. "I've picked up a lot of business in and out of Brazil. I've got four clients now and I anticipate some more. I'm making regular trips down there now and we're looking forward to even more coming our way very soon."
Hard Buck, who McPeek says is more definite for Saturday's 1 1/16-mile contest, has a great deal of versatility and is preparing for bigger things this season.
"He's won at a mile and he could run all the way out to a mile and a half if you asked him to," said McPeek. "This race is really a prep for the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup (Feb. 22). If he wins that, I'd think he could go on to Dubai."
Plans for New Dreams depend largely on McPeek's impressions after her :52 3/5 five-furlong breeze on the turf course Wednesday morning. Having won her last race at 1 1/2-miles, McPeek is looking forward to sending her into the middle distance offered in the Suwanee River.
"She, more so than Hard Buck, definitely wants a route of ground," said McPeek. "We're still learning a lot as we bring her and these other horses up here. She won a grade I down there. Hard Buck has already proven himself. We'll see how she works over the grass and decide if she's ready to prove herself too."
Hard Buck was also clocked on the turf course Wednesday in :52 3/5 for five furlongs. Jerkens Pair Point to Donn
Trainer Allen Jerkens nominated Puzzlement and Bowman's Band to the Canadian Turf, but the Hall of Fame conditioner says the one-two finishers from the Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 3 are still looking to the grade I Donn Handicap Feb. 7 for their next starts.
"This is going to be a much tougher race than the last one," said Jerkens referring to the Donn which is expected to attract last year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Funny Cide and the multiple grade I winner Medaglia D'Oro. "It's like night and day."
Puzzlement has worked three times since his neck victory over his barnmate including a seven-furlong drill Wednesday in 1:35. His easy breezes stand in marked contrast to the bullet drill he turned in two days before his Hal's Hope win, but follow a familiar pattern for Jerkens. Previously, Puzzlement finished third behind 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft in the Woodward (gr. I) at Belmont last September.
Bowman's Band is looking for his first victory since the grade II Meadowlands Breeders' Cup in October. The 6-year-old has finished second twice, including the Hal's Hope, and fourth in the Cigar Mile (gr. I).
"They want to run," said Jerkens. "It's a tough spot, but everybody wants to win the big race. We're happy if we come away getting a piece of it. If we end up really lucky and win a grade one, it means a whole lot more."