His previously tenuous Kentucky Derby lineup is now set in stone, the product of a spectacular near-sweep of last weekend's slate of prep races.
However, lest anyone think Ken McPeek is done working the pre-Derby trail after Java's War's triumph in Saturday's Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and Frac Daddy's runner-up effort in the Grade I Arkansas Derby, the Lexington-based trainer will be back in the fray Saturday to put the finishing touches on his Kentucky Oaks plans.
Though Saturday's Grade III, $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes represents one of the last-ditch spots to earn points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby, McPeek will be sending out Grade I-winning filly Pure Fun against 10 male rivals in an attempt to shore up her form before her planned Oaks start on May 3.
A total of 34 points toward the Kentucky Derby (20-8-4-2) is available in the Lexington, but those points also can be applied to the Kentucky Oaks standings. Pure Fun's total of 20 points is enough to make the Oaks field as it stands now, but McPeek is more concerned about getting the daughter of Pure Prize over a mild setback last month.
In her season debut and first start since winning the Grade I Hollywood Starlet last December, Pure Fun finished third as the overwhelming favorite in the Grade III Bourbonette Stakes at Turfway Park on March 23.
The chestnut filly could have been forgiven that day for being short off the layoff, but the fever she spiked a day later was seen by McPeek as the main culprit behind her 3-length defeat.
"My first instinct was she didn't handle the racetrack well at all but then the day after, she had an elevated fever and it lasted three straight days so I think she had a virus going on," said McPeek, who conditions Pure Fun for Magdalena Racing. "So I believe we had a legitimate excuse but she's had plenty of time to bounce back.
"I know it's a little unconventional, but I'm OK with that. I think she'll run better in the Oaks with a race under her belt."
Pure Fun drew outside post No. 11 in the 11⁄16-mile Lexington and stands as the only graded stakes winner in a field that includes Team Valor's Cerro, sixth in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes in February.
Having to make the two-week turnaround from the Lexington to the Oaks doesn't rattle McPeek given that Pure Fun won the Hollywood Starlet over the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park two weeks after taking an allowance race at Churchill Downs.
"I was going to have to breeze her in company up to (the Oaks) and I really didn't have anything fast enough to really test her," McPeek said. "I would rather run her once than breeze her twice. We probably won't even work her going into the (Oaks). She handled the quick turnaround really well shipping and everything. So I think this one is easier than that one was."
Like Pure Fun, WinStar Farm's General Election will be trying to make amends for an off outing at Turfway Park when he lines up for the Lexington.
General Election won the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park in his stakes debut, but then finished 10th in the Grade III Spiral Stakes behind Black Onyx.
"We are just drawing a line through the Spiral," trainer Kellyn Gorder said. "In the Battaglia, the race set up perfect, but in the Spiral, the kickback (from the Polytrack) was really flying and he was getting it in his face for the first 6 or 7 furlongs. He never got a break from it."
What: Kentucky Derby prep race
When: 5:13 p.m. Saturday
Purse: $200,000 (Grade III)
Distance: 1 1⁄16 miles
Derby points: 20 to winner, 8 for second, 4 for third, 2 for fourth.
COOLMORE LEXINGTON STAKES FIELD
PP Horse Jockey
1Winning Cause Leparoux
2 Pick of the Litter Castanon
3 River Rocks Graham
4 Hip Four Sixtynine Saez
5 Where's Dominic Prado
6 Sunbean Stevens
7 Examen Gomez
8 Cerro Rosario
9 Wings of Fortune Borel
10 General Election Rocco Jr.
11 Pure Fun Napravnik