ELMONT, N.Y. — When word came down that Belmont Stakes entrant Frac Daddy was clocked working 5 furlongs in 1:04.75 on Wednesday, it was as much news to trainer Kenny McPeek as anyone.
Despite instructions to the exercise rider to go in a more relaxed clip, Frac Daddy — the 16th-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby — motored his way around the Belmont strip especially picking things up over the final 3 furlongs.
"I caught him going :372⁄5 for the three-eighths and that wasn't what I had planned at all. I wanted to go in :15, :15, :15 yesterday and then work him today," McPeek said. "So today we slowed him down."
The fact the Arkansas Derby runner-up trained faster than planned didn't take anything off McPeek's belief he could have another upset Belmont Stakes victory in his pocket.
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McPeek saddled the biggest upset winner in the race's history when Sarava took the 2002 Belmont at odds of 70-1. Frac Daddy may not threaten that mark, but the son of Scat Daddy who has just one win in seven starts is going to need a similar breath-snatching run in order to make up the more than 24 lengths that separated him from Kentucky Derby winner Orb on the first Saturday in May.
"He's had issues with his throat, those ulcers he had earlier have lingered," McPeek said. "He trains great, we're just kind of waiting for him to put it together."
Distance the key for Midnight Taboo
A glance at his past performances might suggest that Midnight Taboo's presence in the Belmont Stakes was solely to ensure a solid pace for his stablemates.
Though his two other entrants have proven graded stakes form, owner Mike Repole warns that the lightly raced son of Langfuhr boasts more merit for the 11/2-mile race than his race record suggests.
Stamina is one of Repole's favorite ingredients to look for when purchasing horses. Thus the fact Midnight Taboo counts 1995 Belmont Stakes winner Thunder Gulch as his dam's sire made him desirable.
With one win and two second-place efforts in three starts, Midnight Taboo is taking a major leap in class Saturday. Repole's desire to win the Belmont runs as deep as for those who hold the Kentucky Derby up as the Holy Grail. So the last thing he was going to do was leave a horse who fit the pedigree profile on his bench.
"Midnight Taboo is about a horse who we really liked last year as a 2-year-old," said Repole, who also owns Grade I winner Overanalyze and graded stakes-winning filly Unlimited Budget. "He can go a mile and a half. I was going to run him in the Easy Goer Stakes (on the undercard) but I was watching him train and thinking, they only have one chance as 3-year-olds to do this."