Twin McPeeks

The 2-year-old season has pretty much concluded and we have a good idea how the Kentucky Derby trail is shaping up, with the exception of the Bob Baffert-trained horses, whose status is still in limbo. But at this point, Kenny McPeek is holding one of the strongest hands we’ve seen in years, with his two main hopefuls both looking like true Derby horses with little or no flaws.~ Steve Haskin

Twin McPeeks

By Steve Haskin


Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. George Patton and Omar Bradley. Smile Happy and Rattle N Roll.

Huh? What’s he talking about? Has he finally gone off the deep end?

Nah, it’s just my weird, convoluted way of showing how two famous figures can be on the same team, fighting for the same goal, and still be antagonists. In other words, I’m trying to get your attention.

Just to explain, Ruth and Gehrig and Mantle and Maris didn’t dislike each other, but there was a rivalry between them; in the latter’s case to see who would be the first to break Ruth’s iconic single-season home run record. Adams and Jefferson were two of our most influential founding fathers and also good friends who were the force behind the Declaration of Independence, but eventually became enemies, both politically and socially. Patton and Bradley were two of our most distinguished generals spearheading the invasion of Europe, but they couldn’t stand each other.

Now let’s return to a sense of normalcy. the striking dark bay Smile Happy and the impressive chestnut Rattle N Roll share the same barn and have no personal feelings when it comes to the other, but one day they will have to face each other in battle to see which one will bring their trainer Kenny McPeek his long-awaited first Kentucky Derby victory, as well as providing their aptly named owner Lucky Seven Stable its first Derby score.

Right now they are traveling in parallel lines with little to choose between them. To demonstrate the similarities:

  • McPeek picked out Rattle N Roll as a yearling for $210,000 and Smile Happy as a yearling for $185,000. So they were pretty much the same market price.
  • Rattle N Roll broke his maiden at Churchill Downs, then won a Grade 1 stakes at Keeneland in his next start. Smile Happy broke his maiden at Keeneland, then won a Grade 1 stakes at Churchill Downs in his next start.
  • Rattle N Roll came from sixth to break his maiden by three lengths going 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 4/5 under Brian Hernandez. Smile Happy came from sixth to break his maiden by 5 1/2 lengths going 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 3/5 under Brian Hernandez.
  • Smile Happy’s dam is by Pleasant Tap. Rattle N Roll’s second dam is by Pleasant Tap.
  • Adrian Regan, with different partners, pinhooked both Rattle N Roll and Smile Happy as yearlings.
  • In the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager, Rattle N Roll is No. 17 and Smile Happy is No. 18.

Oh, wait, the No. 19 horse is Tiz the Bomb, also trained by McPeek.

Before we continue, let’s let McPeek sort out the similarities and differences between Rattle N Roll and Smile Happy, and Tiz the Bomb as well. All three are currently at his Silverleaf Hills Training Center in Ocala getting ready before hitting the Derby trail at Gulfstream Park. The main question is how to keep them separated.

“Rattle N Roll is the type who needs a better setup as far as pace, because he’s not as quick as Smile Happy, who has more tactical speed,” McPeek said. “He can stalk any kind of pace, while Rattle N Roll is better coming from farther back. Rattle N Roll is a little taller, but they’re pretty much a similar package. When it comes to the Derby I’ve been circling the wagons for a long time. Hitting it dead center is hard, but maybe this will be the year. Both colts have a big future. It’s been a real team effort.”

McPeek doesn’t want to forget Tiz the Bomb, who was scheduled to run in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes along with Smile Happy, but developed a cut that had be cleaned out and needed to be treated with antibiotics. But the way Smile Happy ran, McPeek feels everything may have worked out for the best.

Tiz the Bomb has won two stakes on grass and was a fast-closing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but did break his maiden in an off-the-turf race at Ellis Park by 14 lengths. His sire, Hit it a Bomb, did win the BC Juvenile Turf for Aidan O’Brian, but Hit it a Bomb’s sire War Front was a dirt horse who sires both dirt and turf horses, and Tiz the Bomb’s broodmare sire, Tiznow, was strictly a dirt horse, winning back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Classics and has been a top sire of dirt horses for many years.

“Tiz the Bomb is more of a Northern Dancer type,” McPeek said. “He’s not quite as tall and long as the other two, but he has great balance and is a beautiful horse. I think he’s going to develop into a great 3-year-old. I actually think I can get him to the English Derby and I believe he can handle Epsom. He handled the undulating course at Kentucky Downs beautifully. There’s just a lot of things we’d have to work out and see how the owner feels about it.”

I have already told the story of Rattle N Roll in the previous “Sleepers” column, so here is my take and some background info and pedigree notes on Smile Happy.

The aforementioned Adrian Regan, who was partners with Pat Barrett, John Wade, Barry Claughessy, and Tim Wicks in the purchase and pinhook of Smile Happy, said they would have gotten a better price for the colt, but his sire Runhappy still was an unknown quantity at the time and there was no telling what kind of sire he would make.

“Smile Happy was a beautiful horse,” said Regan, who is part owner of Hunter Valley Farm in Versailles, Kentucky and teamed up with Paramount Sales to pinhook Rattle N Roll.  “But when he went to the sale, Runhappy didn’t have the aura he does now, so we knew we were up against it. Fortunately, when Kenny sees a horse he likes he doesn’t care who they’re by. He picks horses other people will shy away from. He was a super horse to prep for the sale. We all loved him. He was the type of horse when you lunged him in the ring he would put you in good humor because he did everything perfectly. He was very smart and was tough in that he loved his work. He certainly was one of our favorites.”

Smile Happy in two career stats has exhibited almost all the attributes you want to see in a Derby horse with no noticeable flaws. In his debut he was stuck on the rail in traffic, and as two horses began to separate themselves from the rest of the field on the far turn it was as if Smile Happy was slingshot out of the pack. He quickly pounced on the two leaders from the outside and drew off under a hand ride to win going away with a final sixteenth in :06 1/5.

Track announcer Kurt Becker summed it up perfectly and succinctly as Smile Happy drew clear down the short stretch: “Smile Happy, breathtaking move around the far turn, nifty maneuver between horses, through traffic, swung wide and kicked on.” That is the call of a Derby horse,

What struck me was how light on his feet he is. He just glides over the ground with a beautiful smooth stride and keeps his legs under him perfectly. It was as impressive a maiden race from a visual standpoint as I’ve seen all year.

In the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Smile Happy was 12-1 on the morning line, but was bet down to 9-2. He broke sharply, was behind three horses going into the first turn, then settled in fifth while out in the clear, some five lengths behind the 2-1 second choice Howling Time and right off the flank of the 7-5 favorite Classic Causeway. When Classic Causeway made his move three-wide, Smile Happy went with him four-wide, but when they turned into the stretch, Smile Happy, after changing leads smoothly, again drew off with those same fluid strides. His new rider, Corey Lanerie, threw a couple of crosses on him, then decided to hit him three times left handed even though the colt seemed to be well on his way to victory. Despite feeling the whip, Smile Happy never flinched and didn’t deviate at all from his path.

So in only two starts, Smile Happy has demonstrated the ability to be placed wherever his rider wants him, a big turn of foot, a flawless stride, the ability to quickly overpower his opponents in the stretch and draw off, and the kind of professionalism you always want to see.

And from a speed rating standpoint, Smile Happy went from a solid “7 ¼” Thoro-Graph number in his debut to a “2” in the Kentucky Jockey Club. That is 2 ½ points faster than Corniche ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 2 ½ points faster than Jack Christopher ran in the Champagne Stakes. Oh yes, it was 1 ½ points faster than Rattle N Roll ran in the Breeders’ Futurity, making the McPeek duo the two fastest 2-year-olds in the country on Thoro-Graph.

Now, you might ask yourself, can a Runhappy get a mile and a quarter? That was the same question they asked about Distorted Humor (Funny Cide), Elusive Quality (Smarty Jones), and Boundary (Big Brown). Let’s not forget that Runhappy is by Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. And when you look at Smile Happy’s female family, there will be little doubt he will get classic distances.

His dam Pleasant Smile is inbred 4 x 4 to Ribot through his sons Graustark and His Majesty, full-brothers out of Flower Bowl, who is also the dam of two-time champion Bowl of Flowers. Graustark and His Majesty have sired classic winners Avatar (Belmont Stakes) and Pleasant Colony (Kentucky Derby and Preakness), respectively. Pleasant Colony’s son Pleasant Tap won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in a sizzling 1:58 4/5 and Suburban Handicap and is the sire of Pleasant Smile. In addition, Pleasant Tap’s broodmare sire is Belmont Stakes winner and top stamina sire Stage Door Johnny.

Smile Happy’s fifth dam is the Darby Dan mare Bravura, who is also the fifth dam of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide.

If that’s not enough stamina for you, Smile Happy’s second dam is by Relaunch, who is the sire of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Skywalker, as well as Waquoit, winner of  the mile and a half Jockey Club Gold Cup by 15 lengths, and With Anticipation, a two-time grade 1 winner at a mile and a half on turf.

So, if Smile Happy has any flaws or question marks I haven’t seen it.

Now, if Tiz the Bomb is as good as McPeek says he is and he stays home, those Twin McPeeks may turn into the Grand Tetons by the first Saturday in May.

Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire and Keeneland/Coady Photography


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