By Elizabeth Troutman
Kentucky trainer Kenny McPeek tells first-time investors his “Rule of Five” when they are buying in to the game of Thoroughbred racing.
Your first horse will run — and that’s about as much as you can hope for. The second will refuse to run. The third horse’s career will end early because of an injury. The fourth horse will show some promise and be a lot of fun.
And the fifth horse will be the magical competitor that helps you forget you ever invested in the first four.
Of course, there’s an unspoken sixth rule: there are always exceptions to the “rules” in the unpredictable world of horse racing.
But with 27 years of industry experience, McPeek has the credentials back up his theories about Thoroughbred racing. His eye for talent as a bloodstock consultant and trainer has won him 126 stakes races to date, with winners including Tejano Run, Take Charge Lady and Repent. As the owner of Magdalena Farm in Lexington, McPeek now focuses on helping clients chase their dreams in Thoroughbred racing by selecting prospects for the track.
Growing up in Lexington, McPeek said he was surrounded by a culture with a natural appreciation for horses. McPeek’s father and grandfather introduced him to the racing industry by taking him to Keeneland when he was as young as 7. McPeek remembers clinging to the coattail of his grandfather’s tweed jacket as they weaved through the crowds. While his grade school peers were enamored with basketball and football, McPeek was fascinated by horse pedigrees and the sales at Keeneland.
During his undergraduate years at the University of Kentucky, McPeek discovered the library at the College of Agriculture housed printed copies of Blood Horse magazine and the Thoroughbred Times. McPeek read every issue he could find dating as far back as 1904. He earned a business degree and started interviewing for jobs on Wall Street in New York City. But the day after graduation, he decided to follow his passion for horses and started working for Keeneland and horse farms.
In July of 1985, McPeek’s father was struggling to pay the training bills for his four racehorses. He borrowed a horse trailer and relocated his father’s horses to a training facility on Paris Pike. He agreed to keep the horses until they sold or his father recuperated. Noticing the high percentages being paid to trainers, McPeek started working with the horses on his own and acquired his trainer’s license.
For the first 10 years of his training career, McPeek worked with many uncompetitive horses, which permitted learning by trial and error. He asked his colleagues a lot of questions. And he paid close attention to the details when observing horses on the track. He couldn’t win a race at Keeneland or Churchill, but he was acquiring important lessons for the future.
“Those cheaper horses I had when I was young have taught me valuable lessons,” McPeek said. “I’ve trained enough bad horses to know what they look like and enough good ones to know the difference.”
McPeek’s awareness of the qualities of a good racehorse started to reap rewards when he was hired to work with high-caliber horse Tejano Run. Through several years of ups and downs in a unpredictable and competitive industry, McPeek has won victories with Repent at the Louisiana Derby and with Harlan’s Holiday at the Florida Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes. And in 2002, he achieved his greatest accomplishment by winning the Belmont Stakes with Sarava.
In 2005 McPeek took a year off of training to travel and returned to Kentucky to establish Magdalena Farm on Russell Cave Road. On the historic property he built a full-service Thoroughbred facility, including 5 barns and 60 stalls. The farm’s staff works with horses at all levels of their career, including breaking training, lay-up, breeding, sales preparation and rehabilitation.
Today, McPeek is continually on the move looking for the ideal racehorse in the United States and South America. His clients’ horses compete at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Saratoga and Gulf Stream Park. When inspecting a yearling, he examines the horse’s hips and balance, and takes interest in horses born out of young mares. He currently works with more than 100 full owners and partners and has identified more than 1,200 winning horses. He tells his clients they don’t need $1 million to buy a good horse. But they do need patience.
“It’s a numbers game and you have to stay at it and be persistent,” McPeek said. “You have to look at it as an overall picture, if you keep at it and buy the right kind of horse, eventually you will get a good one.”
Over the years, McPeek has realized the importance of staying calm in the racing industry. He also has learned how to manage a team. He takes a special interest in mentoring young people who want to pursue careers in the racing industry. In addition, McPeek is currently working on the production of a smartphone application designed for racehorse enthusiasts.
For more information about Kenny McPeek and Magdalena Farm, visit www.mcpeekracing.com. To download McPeek’s horse racing phone application, visit www.horseracesnow.com.
Photo by Susan Lustig McPeek