Page McKenney

Page McKenney

Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Late-Blooming Page McKenney Hits His Stride

Former claimer with more than $700,000 in earnings competing well at high level.

Page McKenney can be described as somewhat of a slow starter. He didn't break his maiden until his 13th outing, during his 2013 campaign as a 3-year-old racing for a $14,500 claiming price at Colonial Downs in Virginia.

Twenty-two starts later, the 5-year-old Pennsylvania-bred gelding by Eavesdropper out of the Yarrow Brae mare Winning Grace is a multiple stakes winner and, most recently, has proven he belongs at the graded-stakes level.

"He's very easy to train," said Maryland-based Mary Eppler, who trains Page McKenney for Adam Staple and Jalin Stable. "He's actually a very quiet horse who just goes out and tries with all he has every time."

In the race after his maiden-breaker, Page McKenney was claimed for $16,000 from a turf event at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. He was claimed from Jalin Stable, which ended up being part of the new ownership team.

Page McKenney, bred by Dr. James Bryant and Linda Davis, put it all together as a 4-year-old in 2014 with six wins—two in stakes company—four seconds, and a third in 12 starts. He banked $308,000 that year, which ended with a fast-closing second in the Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream Park in early December.

Also in 2014, the gelding set a course record at Parx Racing for one mile and 70 yards on the turf in an allowance event at the Pennsylvania track.

"I don't think he is as good on grass as he is on dirt," Eppler said. "We took him to Florida (for the Claiming Crown race on the dirt) and he almost won. So we figured he could go on to the next level."

Page McKenney resurfaced Feb. 14 of this year at Laurel Park, where he won the John B. Campbell Handicap at 1 1/8 miles to kick off his season. He followed up with a victory in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes, also at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt at Laurel.

Page McKenney
Photo: Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Page McKenney won the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes on March 21, 2015.

Eppler then had to decide whether to wait for another ungraded stakes or give Page McKenney a shot in graded stakes company. When the entries were drawn for the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic (gr. II), Page McKenney's name was in the box.

"The Charles Town race just happened to fit into the schedule, so we ran him," Eppler said. "Had the race been held on a different weekend, we probably would have gone with something else."

Page McKenney was sent off at 33-1 in the April 18 race at the West Virginia track given the presence of two formidable California shippers: champion Shared Belief and Moreno. With regular rider Horacio Karamanos aboard, Page McKenney finished a respectable third behind Moreno and Imperative, the 2013 Charles Town Classic winner, in a race that greatly changed when Shared Belief was eased after about five furlongs in the 1 1/8-mile event.

That effort led the gelding's connections to give him a chance in the grade III Pimlico Special May 15 at Pimlico Race Course. Though he couldn't collar front-running Commissioner , Page McKenney rallied nicely for second despite incurring a minor injury at the starting gate.

So the former claimer, in a span of two races, had become a legitimate graded stakes competitor.

"It kind of proves to me it doesn't matter who you put him in with," Eppler said. "He is a little horse, though. Compared to those horses in the Special he looked like a pony. Those horses were huge.

"We did expect him to run well, and he did. He grabbed an ankle when he left the starting gate and was bleeding, but it turned out to be all superficial. He went back to the track the following week and is ready to race again."

It appears the next start for Page McKenney will come in the June 25 Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III) at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Iowa. The race fits his profile: 1 1/8 miles on the dirt.

With $709,078 in earnings—almost all of that since the claim two years ago—Page McKenney has come a long way. It's not lost on owner Staple, a poker dealer in Las Vegas who at one time oversaw stallion seasons at Signature Stallions in Florida.

"It has been the ride of a lifetime," Staple said. "I'd been doing more of the breeding side of it down in Florida and never got that serious into racing. It was always that we were just trying to move horses on to people who were doing bigger things.

"We had a couple that we raced but nothing along the lines of this. This has just been insane."