Kentucky Derby

John Clay: McPeek joins the app business

Trainer Ken McPeek talked with reporters about a new app he has developed — "Horse Races Now" — that features entries, results, replays and live video from tracks.
Trainer Ken McPeek talked with reporters about a new app he has developed — "Horse Races Now" — that features entries, results, replays and live video from tracks. Herald-Leader

LOUISVILLE — As Kenny McPeek stood outside his barn chatting with some media members on Saturday morning, a noise resembling a chime would be heard, prompting the trainer to pull his iPhone from his pocket and take a look.

Finally, after four or five dings in the course of 15 minutes, McPeek explained.

"I get that alert whenever anyone downloads my app," he said.

You might think it enough for a 50-year-old trainer to have two Kentucky Derby contenders, but Kenny McPeek is also in the app business.

He and ex-wife Sue own the app "Horse Races Now," which is available for your iPhone, iPad or Android device. It features entries, results, replays and live video from various tracks.

"Three years ago, I was watching a show called 'Planet of the Apps' on MSNBC, and I thought horse racing should have one of those," he said.

So McPeek got the Jockey Club to help write the computer code and Equibase to provide the pertinent info.

"We've had over 60,000 downloads in 103 countries," he said Saturday. "We need to open up horse racing. The way I look at it, that's what the fans want. The fans want it 'now.' That's why we named it that."

Keeneland was among the first tracks to allow video to be played on the app. Churchill is holding out, but "we're working on it," McPeek said.

The app's growth forced McPeek to hire a chief operating officer to run it, so the horse trainer would have time to, yes, train horses.

He has a couple of good ones this time around in Java's Run, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland a couple of weeks back, and Frac Daddy, who finished second in the Arkansas Derby that same day.

"They are completely different types," McPeek said. "Java's small. Frac Daddy's big. Frac's got a little more speed. Java just keeps coming."

This is McPeek's first Derby since Noble Promise finished fifth in 2010 and just his second since he saddled the 2002 favorite Harlan's Holiday, who finished seventh and set off a tumultuous Triple Crown campaign.

Jack Wolf, whose Starlight Stables owned Harlan's Holiday, promptly switched the colt to Todd Pletcher's barn. Five weeks later, McPeek's Sarava, a 70-1 shot, upset Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem in the Belmont.

After learning that his mother was terminally ill in 2005, McPeek took a one-year sabbatical from training and became a bloodstock agent.

He also met a couple of Australian trainers, who persuaded him to do things on his own terms. So he bought 115-acre Magdalena Farm on Russell Cave Road as a home base and started anew.

"You also find out who your friends are when you take a little break and then come back," he said. "There were those who may have questioned my talent. They don't much now."

In last year's Travers, McPeek's Golden Ticket finished in a dead heat for first with Alpha, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, a Lafayette High School grad.

In fact, if McPeek can't win this year's Derby, he's rooting for yet another Tates Creek grad in trainer Shug McGaughey, whom McPeek worked for when he first started into training.

But then McPeek has a pretty good chance of winning the roses himself. After a second-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby, Java's War broke dead last in the Blue Grass, only to run down Palace Malice for the win.

Frac Daddy suffered a quarter crack in the Holy Bull and finished sixth. After a pre-race "meltdown," he finished seventh in the Florida Derby. Then the colt bounced back to run a strong second behind Overanalyze in Arkansas.

"Frac Daddy is definitely getting better," said McPeek after both horses worked Saturday morning. "The horse is a big, strong, serious-type horse. Java, if we can just maintain his form, I think we're good there."

What would it mean for McPeek to win the Derby?

"I think a higher power takes over at some point and either it's your turn or it's not," he said. "We've done a good job getting these two horses ready, and they have a legitimate chance. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't."

And then Kenny McPeek's phone "dinged" one more time.

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