Kenny McPeek, a three-time Kentucky Downs leading trainer, will try to win Wednesday’s $300,000 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks for the second straight year, this time with Princess Warrior.
The McPeek trainee is owned by Evan Trommer and his sons Matthew and Andrew. A year ago, the barn won the Oaks with Daddys Lil Darling.
Both fillies were second in Keeneland’s Grade I Darley Alcibiades as 2-year-olds. Princess Warrior has a ways to go to take the comparison much farther, with Daddys Lil Darling already a graded stakes-winner who also finished second in the Grade I Ashland and Kentucky Oaks before racing at Kentucky Downs. She would go on to be a grade I winner, taking Santa Anita’s American Oaks, enabling her to be a $1.3 million-earner.
But could Princess Warrior follow in those footsteps?
Greg Geier, a McPeek assistant trainer at Churchill Downs, thinks so. “Her last two races were really good,” he said. “All her turf races have been good. She looks like she’s just getting better and the extra distance should help.”
Princess Warrior first ran on turf when a rallying fourth in Gulfstream Park’s Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes on March 3, after which she was a well-beaten third back on dirt in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks. She went through a sequence of three poor races but McPeek put her back on turf, added blinkers and took her off anti-bleeder medication.
The result was an allowance win at Ellis Park, followed by a third in Arlington Park’s Grade III Pucker Up Stakes, in which she rallied from last behind a slow pace to get beat 2 3/4 lengths for everything. Brian Hernandez Jr., who rode Princess Warrior last fall and once earlier this spring, is back aboard.
“She looks like she’s gotten back on form, putting her on the grass,” Hernandez said. “She ran a big race last time in the Pucker Up. She may be a filly where she’s just getting good, though she actually beat me (at Churchill Downs) first time out when I was riding Mia Mischief.” That filly has gone on to be a multiple stakes-winner and grade I-placed.
Walsh’s meet could get even better with Cloak of Secrecy
Brendan Walsh quietly is having a nice little meet at Kentucky Downs, with two wins, both in $135,000 maiden races, from six starts. That includes Taxman, who might be the first horse to win at Kentucky Downs after making his prior start at Maisons-Laffitte in France.
Walsh can make a nice meet a great one if Cloak of Secrecy can win the Dueling Grounds Oaks in her stakes debut.
Randal Family Trust’s homebred daughter of Scat Daddy has run well in all but her debut last November at Churchill, when she was beaten 36 lengths in a race that came off the turf. On grass, she had a third and three straight seconds before winning June 23 at 1 1/8-mile with some authority. She followed that with a third over yielding turf in a Saratoga allowance race.
“She ran well at Saratoga her last start,” Walsh said. “So we’re expecting a big run from her. She should relish the distance. Whether she’s good enough or not right now, we’ll find out.”
Feargal Lynch, normally based in the Mid-Atlantic, will ride Cloak of Secrecy for the first time. “He’s ridden a good bit for me from time to time when he’s here,” Walsh said. “He’s a good rider. He rode a lot for me in Florida a couple of winters ago. So we’re very familiar with him. He rode a winner for me last year at Kentucky Downs, Zandar."