Trainer Kenny McPeek. Coady Photography.

McPeek Hoping to Make Big Impression in Return to Oaklawn

Edited Press Release

Trainer Kenny McPeek said earlier this week that he had eight horses stabled at Oaklawn and expects to eventually have “20ish” on the grounds for the 2021-2022 meeting that began Dec. 3. 

McPeek has a division of horses at Oaklawn for the first time since 2018, when he won five races from 32 starts. McPeek said Oaklawn’s expanded racing calendar was the hook to return to Hot Springs. Oaklawn is opening in December for the first time and has 66 scheduled racing dates, roughly 10 more than past years. Oaklawn had previously opened in mid to late January. The 2021-2022 live season ends May 8.

“The December start date completely changes the complexion of the Oaklawn meet,” McPeek said. “I think it’s a big help. You’re there longer. As long as they can get the races that you need to go … I know it’s a bit of an experiment, but I think it’s a really good move on their part.”

McPeek returns to Oaklawn with momentum after winning four races, including the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) with Smile Happy, on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program exclusively for 2-year-olds last Saturday at Churchill Downs. The four-bagger helped swell McPeek’s purse earnings this year to a career-high $6.7 million.

“Had a good meet,” McPeek said. “Had a good fall.”

Smile Happy, a son of champion sprinter Runhappy, remained unbeaten in two career starts with a 3 ¼-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club.

“He’s a really, really good horse,” McPeek said. “He’s going to go to Florida initially and we’re probably going to bring him up for the Southwest and possibly the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby.”

The $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Jan. 29, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26 and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2 conclude Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series. 

Smile Happy races for the Lucky Seven Stable of Mike Mackin, who campaigned 2001 Rebel winner Crafty Shaw with now-retired trainer Pete Vestal. Crafty Shaw also ran third in the Southwest and seventh in the Arkansas Derby. 

McPeek is scheduled to start three horses Saturday at Oaklawn, including Oliviaofthedesert and Semble Juste (IRE) in the inaugural $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. 

Laughing Boy, McPeek said, “will probably be entered” in the inaugural $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 11 at Oaklawn. Laughing Boy finished second in a Nov. 25 allowance race at Churchill Downs.

“Horses just shipped in last night, but I’ll be there for a little bit,” McPeek said. “I’ve got a team that’s coming from my Churchill barn that’s already there. We’ve only got eight in there right now, so we’re getting them settled in. It’s taken some time logistically to move everybody.”

With John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs as a major client, McPeek won 40 races in 2012-2017 at Oaklawn, including the $75,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes in 2015 with Trace Creek and the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes in 2017 with Kathballu. 

McPeek’s last Oaklawn victory came with Swiss Skydiver in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) in 2020. Swiss Skydiver went on to beat males in the Preakness – the final leg of the revamped Triple Crown – en route to an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2020.