By Nathan Mayberg

It’s been 16 years since coach Ken McPeek had a type of whirlwind seasons the place he appears to fireplace one bullet after one other. With the 2-year-old Signalman (Common Quarters), the spectacular winner of the GII Kentucky Jockey Membership S. Nov. 24, McPeek is heading into the winter with the products to make a run for the GI Kentucky Derby.

Signalman, who McPeek picked out as a yearling, has been the spotlight of a banner 12 months through which he has scored graded stakes wins with horses like Stressed Rider (Distorted Humor), Eskimo Kisses (To Honor and Serve), Princess Warrior (Midshipman), Cairo Cat (Cairo Prince) and Daddys Lil Darling (Scat Daddy).

Signalman’s effort in vanquishing 13 rivals within the Kentucky Jockey Membership has the veteran conditioner dreaming massive. The colt is owned by a partnership that features McPeek’s spouse Sherri and their Magdalena Racing, in addition to Tommie Lewis and David Bernsen.

“Overcoming a 14-horse subject is fairly superb,” McPeek mentioned. “He’s gutsy.”

Again in 2002, McPeek had an identical embarrassment of riches with Harlan’s Vacation, who was favored within the Kentucky Derby, however completed seventh. He gained the GII Louisiana Derby with Repent, who had already gained the Kentucky Jockey Membership, however saved working second behind extremely completed rivals akin to Conflict Emblem and Medaglia d’Oro. When Conflict Emblem seemed like he was going to take down the Triple Crown for enjoyable, McPeek pulled into Elmont, New York, with Sarava and spoiled the celebration to the tune of a 70-1 upset within the GI Belmont S. In the meantime, 2002 additionally noticed McPeek’s Take Cost Girl annex six stakes races, together with the GI Ashland S. and the GI Spinster S.

Since then, McPeek has had loads of success, however has not gone on this type of a roll.

Throughout a quick hiatus from coaching in 2005 to care for his terminally unwell mom, he famously picked out a yearling for $57,000 that turned out to be Corridor of Famer Curlin. McPeek compares the seems to be of Signalman within the gross sales ring to that main sire.

“Curlin had the physique of a Greek God, however had a vet challenge,” McPeek mentioned. “This horse had the physique of a Greek God [but without any vet issues].”

In Signalman’s case, the hammer value was even additional discounted. Finally 12 months’s Fasig-Tipton October sale, McPeek scooped the son of Turkey-based sire Common Quarters up for $32,000. In some ways, the modest value mirrors the story of Common Quarters himself, who was purchased as a yearling for $20,000 and claimed in his debut for a similar value by the late coach Thomas McCarthy. These costs didn’t forestall Common Quarters from working off with the GI Toyota Blue Grass S. and GI Woodford Reserve Turf Traditional S.

To seek out gems like Signalman on the gross sales, McPeek fields a staff that features Dominic Brennan and farm supervisor Alan Shell, who make use of a singular technique that analyzes the pace genes of the younger horses. “Going to a horse sale is the final word problem,” he mentioned. “It’s important to get by your horses and your shoppers’ price range. I gained’t purchase one except I feel it has graded stakes potential.”

McPeek favored the pedigree of Signalman and Common Quarters. He famous the affect of Pulpit, the grandsire of Common Quarters. Signalman additionally has the Corridor of Fame turf runner Manila in his dam’s household. However McPeek isn’t centered as a lot on pedigree when he makes his purchases.

“I put much more emphasis on the conformation than the pedigree,” McPeek mentioned. “He could make his personal pedigree.”

To not say he’s dismissive of pedigrees. He’s been finding out them since he was rising up in Lexington along with his father, a horse proprietor and homebuilder. McPeek purchased his first racehorses in school when he noticed a dispersal e book laying round in a Kentucky financial institution. He favored the pedigrees and flew out to Washington to purchase some Thoroughbreds he ended up flipping for a revenue.

He bought Signalman in his personal identify and offered 40% to Lewis, a shopper of his whose promising graded stakes winner Ten Metropolis (Run Away and Conceal) (one other McPeek discount discover at $12,000) had fatally damaged down within the GI Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity earlier that month.

Lewis named Signalman after her husband Travis, who was a signalman on destroyers and plane carriers within the Navy throughout the Vietnam Conflict. Including to the identify’s significance, Common Quarters is the Naval code for “all fingers on deck.”

Lewis mentioned she is “overwhelmed” on the colt’s early success, which included a runner-up end within the Breeders’ Futurity and a robust third within the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile previous to his breakout rating within the Kentucky Jockey Membership.

“I’ve been within the enterprise 35 years and I’ve by no means had a horse of this caliber,” mentioned Lewis, an Oklahoma native whose father owned Quarter Horses. Lewis met her husband working for Common Electrical earlier than they determined to pursue a dwelling shopping for drive-in film theaters within the 1970s.

In the meantime, Signalman’s minority proprietor David Bernsen–identified for partnering with Rockingham Ranch on horses akin to champion sprinter Roy H (Extra Than Prepared) and two-time GI Breeders’ Cup Turf Dash winner Stormy Liberal (Stormy Atlantic)–has identified McPeek for years, however that is their first racehorse collectively. A number of years in the past, whereas Bernsen was doing consulting work, he invited McPeek out to Australia to see the racing farms and enterprise there. After that go to, McPeek ended up constructing Magdalena Farm, the place he trains and seems horses in a method much like the Australian strategy.

McPeek thinks numerous the success he’s having recently is as a result of he’s selecting out his personal horses once more on the gross sales after a interval of letting others do the choosing. A few of his greatest horses had been those who he chosen on the gross sales like Take Cost Girl, Repent and Tejano Run. Of his greatest runners, McPeek compares Signalman to 1995 GI Kentucky Derby runner-up Tejano Run, whom he purchased for $20,000 on the 1993 Keeneland September Sale.

Whereas the plan for now’s to present Signalman a relaxation earlier than gearing up for a return in Gulfstream Park’s GII Fountain of Youth S. Mar. 2, McPeek mentioned the heavy lifting is over with Signalman. The muse has been laid.

“I feel the onerous half’s already completed,” McPeek mentioned. “Now it’s only a matter of timing.”


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