Catching My Eye: McPeek and Foley Send Out Impressive Juveniles at Churchill

November 15th, 2023

You know that Ken McPeek and Greg Foley were up early and whistling while they worked Monday morning. Not much else could make a trainer love their job more than a two-year-old showing promise in November. Between the two barns, they sent out six juveniles at Churchill Downs this weekend who caught my eye. Let’s take a look.

Ken McPeek 

On Saturday, McPeek won both of the 1 1/16 miles two-year-old fillies maiden special weights, and Julien Leparoux was aboard each filly.

In Race 8, McPeek took the exacta with Sistina Chapel holding off stablemate Extremely Gruntled, who arguably could have won if not being a handful early on and in the far turn. Sistine Chapel had been impressive but a bit unlucky in her first two runs --not the case on Saturday. She had a perfect stalking trip going three-wide, and with the win, earned an 81 Brisnet Speed figure, which is a solid improvement from her two turf efforts. 

Still, maybe Extremely Gruntled is the one to take out of this race. Breaking well and headstrong to be forward, she was wrestled back from third to sixth out of the first turn. Targeting her stablemate who made the first run to the front, Extremely Gruntled was a touch uneven coming out of the turn and didn’t begin to menace until too late. She also earned an 81, and should be coming into her next race having learned a few lessons.

On paper, Race 11 had a stronger field of the two divisions. And I’m A Mess took it to them. Breaking behind her forward-minded foes, the daughter of American Pharoah worked her way from the middle of the field to the rail, settled nicely, and in the far turn, circled the field to come flying down the center of the track. Cox’s Enigmatic joined her at the 1/16th pole, but I'm A Mess found more and scored in her first dirt try to earn an 84 Brisnet Speed figure

A half to graded stakes router Tom’s d’Etat, distance and class don’t appear to be an issue for this talented McPeek-trained filly.

On Sunday, McPeek was back in the winner’s circle. Mystik Dan turned Race 4 into his coming-out party. To be fair, he did run well on debut, finishing second at Keeneland, but what he did on Sunday at Churchill was something to write home about.

The race set up well for him, as the early leader got brushed and had to slam on the breaks, leaving just one to target for Mystik Dan to press. Brian Hernanadez Jr. had his colt in a perfect spot breathing down Chun Money’s neck, and when it was time to go, the Goldencents colt responded, opening up out of the far turn and leaving the field in his fumes. Improving nine points from his debut, Mystik Dan earned a 94 Brisnet Speed figure.

Winning by over eight lengths going only 5 1/2 furlongs is hard to do. The way Mystik Dan finished in the stretch gives me hope he can stretch out, but in terms of pedigree, it’s not clear how much further he will want to go.

Greg Foley

They call him Mr. Churchill around Louisville. Bango, that is. And the all-time record holder for most wins over the track got a front row seat from Barn 11 to watch his full brother Evan On Earth’s debut effort. The two-year-old didn’t draw favorably, and he had a monster in Mystik Dan out in front of him, but we saw a very solid run from Tamaroak’s new homebred.

With Tyler Gaffalione aboard, Evan On Earth broke slow and was immediately near the rear for this 5 1/2 furlong sprint. But just like Bango, he came on quickly and found his way towards the front. Stuck four paths wide, he was losing the most ground in the 10-horse field, and though he finished well down the stretch, he could never menace Mystik Dan, who had the much better trip and sprint set-up. Still he fought gamely to the wire, barely getting nabbed for second place.

Running eight points faster than his brother’s debut effort, Evan On Earth earned an 80 Brisnet Speed figure, and will definitely be a major player wherever he shows up next.

On Saturday, Greg Foley let Kentucky know he has an excellent two-year-old filly named Twirl Around in his barn. With John Velazquez getting the call, his only previous mount for the barn above Bango in June’s Aristides, Twirl Around drew post 12 and would have to overcome the wide draw. 

She broke well but would have to take it to four others who shot out from the gates and wanted the lead. No problem. Johnny V. let her roll and she accelerated to the lead, rocking the other juveniles’ world. Never looking back, the daughter of Twirling Candy clocked in over five lengths ahead of the field going 5 1/2 furlongs. 

Twirl Around, out of Willow Hills, is a full sibling to the four-year-old sprinter Willtorun who has performed best on turf. Donamire Farm’s homebred earned an 86 Brisnet Speed figure sprinting on dirt. She galloped out with authority, and now distance is the question at hand.