Trainer Ken McPeek picked up enough memories of the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes for a lifetime last year when his filly, Swiss Skydiver, beat the boys in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
If he can continue to beat the odds, he just might have another reason to cherish his trips to Pimlico Race Course, be it in the spring or the fall.
McPeek, who ignored conventional wisdom by entering Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness and pulled off an 11-1 upset, was up to his old tricks April 10 in the $200,000 Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland by sending out Fern Circle Stables' and Three Chimneys Farm's King Fury for his first start since late November and recording an 18-1 shocker over 20-1 runner-up Unbridled Honor in the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds.
"The layoff was necessary. I've always liked this horse but I was probably was too aggressive with him last fall and in hindsight I wish I had skipped the (Grade 1 TVG) Breeders' Cup (Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance) and gone right to the (Grade 2) Kentucky Jockey Club," McPeek said about two races in which King Fury was seventh and fifth, respectively, after winning the Street Sense Stakes. "I give credit to the Three Chimneys team because we sent him there for a few months and let him heal up and get bigger and stronger. He's come back in great form."
Though part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve series, the Lexington was worth only 20 points to the winner, leaving King Fury on the outside looking in for the May 1 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with a handful of horses in front of him hoping for the 20th and final spot in the opening leg of the Triple Crown.
Of course, if things don't fall into place properly for the first Saturday in May, there's always the Preakness.
"I don't worry about anything out of my control," said McPeek, who has King Fury and the rest of his barn stabled at Churchill Downs. "I think he'll handle the mile-and-a-quarter (of the Kentucky Derby). Whether he gets in, we'll see. Like the song says, it's a lifetime of chance. The Preakness is a great race too. So it's one or the other for him."
When McPeek said he "always" liked King Fury, that dates back to August 2019 when he successfully bid $950,000 on behalf of Paul Fireman's Fern Circle Stable to buy the son of Curlin bred by the Heider Family Stables from the Hill 'n' Dale consignment at The Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton's New York Sale of Select Yearlings.
"He has a fantastic hind leg on him," said McPeek, who originally purchased Curlin, the 2007 Preakness winner and two-time Horse of the Year, but did not race or train him. "He's definitely his father's son. He looks just like Curlin. He moves a lot like him. He's not quite as big as Curlin in thickness but it's a similar package and he might be better made than Curlin to some extent, though he's got some catching up to do to be like his father."
While Whisper Hill Farm's Unbridled Humor picked up eight points for second and Stewart Racing Stable's and WinStar Farm's Starrininmydreams received four for finishing third, both are well below the cutoff on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard for a spot in the field.
For Godolphin's Proxy, the 5-2 second choice, the two points he netted for finishing fourth gave him 36. But trainer Michael Stidham later labeled the son of Tapit's chances of running in the Kentucky Derby as "zero" and said he would likely look for turf races next.
"He was swimming on that track and just didn't handle it," Stidham said.
A quick pace over the sloppy, sealed track helped King Fury's cause as Noble Reflection, Swiftsure, and Bezos darted out for the lead through demanding fractions of :22.39 and :45.87. Approaching the quarter pole, as they started to back up, King Fury was gathering momentum under Brian Hernandez Jr. Seventh after a half-mile, they took charge at the top of the stretch and quickly opened a two-length lead at the eighth pole that wound up as a 2 3/4-length margin when they crossed the wire in 1:43.50 and paid $38.40.
Unbridled Humor, a homebred son of Honor Code trained by Todd Pletcher, rallied from last to take second by 2 1/4 lengths over Starrininmydreams, a son of Super Saver trained by Dallas Stewart.
As happy as McPeek felt after the victory, there was also a touch of sadness.
"I channeled Alice Chandler today," he said about the 95-year-old owner of Mill Ridge Farm who died earlier this week, "because what a fantastic woman she's been for horse racing."