Trainer Ken McPeek says he has brought two “solid 3-year-olds” to New York for a possible start in the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) because “we believe anything can happen in the third leg of the Triple Crown.”
And the 49-year-old conditioner has street cred when it comes to Belmont upsets, having saddled 70-1 shot Sarava to win the 2002 renewal when War Emblem was attempting to win the Triple Crown. Ridden by Edgar Prado, Sarava defeated eventual Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner Medaglia d'Oro by a half-length, with War Emblem finishing a troubled eighth.
On June 9, McPeek will be attempting to derail I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown bid.
“Weird things happen in this race and you can’t count anybody out,” McPeek said June 5 from Belmont Park, where he is preparing Shortleaf Stable’s Atigun for a definite run in Saturday’s race, with Unstoppable U only listed as a possible Belmont starter.
“We like the challenge of these types of races,” McPeek said in reference to himself and Shortleaf Stable’s John Ed Anthony, who was racing as Loblolly Stable to win the 1980 Belmont with Temperence Hill under the Loblolly Stable name.
“The colt was impressive in his last start,” McPeek said of Atigun’s victory in an optional claiming race on the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) card at Churchill Downs.
Previous to that start, Atigun was 11th in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) and fifth in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), both at Oaklawn Park.
In the Rebel, Atigun was up closer to the leaders earlier than usual, with McPeek saying “we made some tactical errors by taking him out of his game.”
In the Arkansas Derby, Atigun ran into a buzz saw named Bodemeister , who went on to finish second in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
“I think he will run all day and he has trained exceptionally well,” McPeek said. “If I’ll Have Another runs his race, I don’t think anybody will beat him. But at the same time, he’s been running hard and a lot can happen.”
McPeek was hedging June 5 on whether to enter Unstoppable U when entries are taken June 6.
Noting that the son of Exchange Rate, owned by Susan McPeek’s Magdalena Racing, is undefeated in two impressive victories, McPeek said Unstoppable U is a little “unseasoned. He sometimes is reluctant to switch leads. But he is an “extremely talented horse. I do think he could be competitive if we choose to run him.
“Right now Atigun is a sure thing,” he added. “Unstoppable U is probably going to be a morning decision Wednesday (June 6).”